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The Mecklenburg County Commission has approved a $2.5 billion bond package for CMS that will go before voters. The board says the money is needed to add classrooms, replace outdated schools, improve learning conditions and keep students safer in violent times.

Fewer projects, higher cost as CMS adjusts $3 billion bond plan for inflation

School construction
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
A school construction site in Charlotte

Interim Superintendent Crystal Hill advised the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday to drop 10 of its 40 construction projects — but said that would still require asking county commissioners and voters to approve almost $3 billion in bonds.

In January, CMS planners listed 40 construction projects they’d like to put before voters on a 2023 bond referendum. The total cost was just under $2.9 billion, but that was in today’s dollars. County officials want to know what the projects will cost as construction rolls out over the next five to seven years. Hill said the price tag will go up.

“These projects have an estimated value of $2.99 billion. This amount is escalated, which means it does include inflation,” Hill said as she introduced the scaled-back plan.

The revised proposal, which the school board will vote on Feb. 28, eliminates plans to replace aging buildings at Albemarle Road, Crown Point, Hidden Valley, Huntingtowne Farms, Piney Grove, Rama Road, Olde Providence and Starmount elementary schools, and Eastway and Kennedy middle schools.

Still on the CMS list are three new full-sized middle schools, a small specialty high school in uptown Charlotte, a regional athletic facility and 25 projects to replace or do major renovations at aging schools.

Construction consultant Dennis LaCaria said the replacements not only improve safety and learning conditions, but prepare for possible enrollment growth.

“Those schools are going to be newer facilities and they’re also typically larger than the facilities that they’re going to replace, so we will pick up capacity while addressing conditions,” he said. Magnet changes associated with some of the renovations will add seats in the popular Montessori and arts programs, officials said.

Still on the list

Here are the projects on the latest list, with inflation-adjusted cost estimates.

  • New north middle school: Located on land CMS owns on Stumptown Road at Monteith Park in Huntersville.  $95 million.
  • New Second Ward high school: On Metro School site with medical and technology theme. $186 million.
  • New south middle school: On land CMS is working to purchase. $92 million.
  • New southwest middle school: Built on land the district has on Highway 160. $99 million. 
  • New west regional athletic complex: Multi-sport facility not tied to one school, located at the former Freedom Driving Range site . $114 million.
  • Albemarle Road Middle: Building replaced on site. $100 million.
  • Allenbrook Elementary: Replaced with new building at former Freedom Driving Range. $79 million.
  • Berryhill: Current building demolished. Replacement built on land owned by Parks and Recreation. $111 million.
  • Beverly Woods Elementary: Building replaced on site. $73 million.
  • Chantilly/Cotswold/Billingsville: Cotswold Elementary building replaced on site and Billingsville renovated. Cotswold and Billingsville students will eventually occupy the new Cotswold building, while the renovated Billingsville will house the Montessori magnet program now at Chantilly. Chantilly will be demolished. $79 million.
  • Cochrane Collegiate Academy: Building replaced on site. $106 million.
  • Cornelius Elementary: Building replaced on site. $78 million.
  • Coulwood STEM Academy: Building replaced on site. $95 million.
  • E.E. Waddell High: Addition and renovation. $21 million.
  • East Mecklenburg High: Final phases of renovation. $206 million.
  • Garinger High: Next phase of renovation. Cambridge and world language magnet programs added; iMeck program moves from Cochrane to Garinger. $56 million.
  • Harding University High: Final phases of renovation. $208 million.
  • Huntersville Elementary: Building replaced on site. $68 million.
  • J.T. Williams: Renovation and conversion to an alternative education school. $19 million.
  • Marie G. Davis: Renovation to house the secondary Montessori program now located at J.T. Williams. $6 million.
  • Matthews Elementary: Building replaced on site. $83 million.
  • North Mecklenburg High: Replace older buildings and athletic facilities. $266 million.
  • Northwest/First Ward: Renovations to both schools. Northwest becomes the countywide high school arts magnet, First Ward is the arts magnet for middle school and University Park becomes the elementary arts magnet. $96 million.
  • Park Road/Sedgefield/Dilworth: Renovations to allow relocation of programs. Montessori magnet program now at Park Road moves to Sedgefield Elementary. New school on the Park Road site takes the students now split between Dilworth and Sedgefield. Renovated Dilworth becomes a magnet school. $91 million.
  • South Charlotte Middle: Building replaced on site. $106 million.
  • South Mecklenburg High: Replace older buildings and athletic facilities. $128 million.
  • Steele Creek Elementary: Building replaced on site. $80 million.
  • University Park Creative Arts: Replace building on site. $80 million.
  • Villa Heights: Building demolished and replaced at the Hawthorne campus. $85 million.
  • Wilson STEM Academy: Building replaced on site. $95 million.

Some plans are delayed

The plan presented last month included changes to magnet programs, boundaries and/or grade levels at many other schools. Those were missing from Tuesday’s report — but not because they’ve been scrapped.

Board Chair Elyse Dashew said the board wants more time to consider those. “So if anyone’s wondering, ‘Well, what about our school?’ that’s coming,” she said.

But the clock is ticking on bond projects, because county commissioners get to decide whether they’re willing to ask voters to borrow $3 billion — more than triple the record-setting $922 million they approved for schools in 2017.

The board is currently considering a series of changes related to arts and Montessori magnet schools, as well as the addition of Cambridge and world language magnet programs to Garinger High, because they're linked to construction projects.

After the Feb. 28 vote, the school board will make their pitch to county commissioners in March. If commissioners don’t agree to the full amount, CMS will have to pare the list further. The current list is not ranked by priority.

Whatever amount the county agrees to will be reviewed by the state’s Local Government Commission, then put on the ballot in November. LaCaria said it will take about five years to get all 30 projects underway, and it could be 2030 by the time the last ones open.


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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.