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CMS In Focus: Hundreds Of Unused Trailers Sticking Around At Schools

CMS plans to add video surveillance focused on mobile classrooms like these.
Trailers at David Cox Elementary School in north Charlotte.

Today is the first day of school in districts throughout the Charlotte area. This week we've been going inside CMS schools to see how teachers have been preparing for the year in the midst of budget cutbacks. WFAE's Scott Graf speaks to the person who oversees CMS construction and buildings - Guy Chamberlain, associate superintendent for auxiliary services. The last time we spoke at length with Guy Chamberlain was in 2007. CMS wasn't just bursting at the seams. The seams had already ripped open. "We had at that time more than 1,200 mobile classrooms fully occupied. We were growing at a rate of over 1,000 students," said Chamberlain. In 2007, Mallard Creek High school opened to relieve overcrowding at what was then North Carolina's largest school - North Mecklenburg High School. Last week, he met with WFAE at another new school built to relieve that overcrowding - Hough High School in Cornelius. Hough is one of two new high schools in CMS. There's also Rocky River High in Mint Hill. CMS has made a lot of strides toward relieving overcrowded schools, but those efforts have produced new challenges - particularly with all the trailer parks that litter school grounds. Chamberlain: Since that time, growth has flattened. In fact, between this year and last year we will probably have something on the order of 650 mobile classrooms not occupied and essentially mothballed. Scott: At schools around the district where the mobiles aren't being used, are there empty classrooms this year? Guy: If you count the mobile classrooms, yes there are empty classrooms. Unfortunately, we've had to leave mobile classrooms parked where they are. Much to the chagrin of some folks who think they are an eyesore. That's unfortunate, but we can't afford to martial all of those to some other location. Each mobile classroom costs about $25,000 to relocate, so if were to move all 650 elsewhere - it's cost prohibitive. We just can't do that. Scott: Are space issues solved at this point? Guy: No, they're not solved, but they're not the problem they were three years ago. One of the issues we always try to address in any bond referendum is to upgrade some of the aging infrastructure. I think that's the more critical issue right now. McClintock Middle is a perfect example. (It's) not in great condition. It's very expense to operate, and it is one of our top priority projects to replace, and it's included in the 2007 bond referendum. We can't get to that. There are a number of schools throughout the district that need some level of attention, and unfortunately not only has capital funding been limited but because of budget problems our operations funds have been reduced as well. Scott: There's money authorized to be spent (to build), but at the same time there's been talk about closing schools. . . How do you reconcile those two different things. Guy: That's a very good question and certainly that's going to be a subject I'm sure the school board is going to discuss over the next several months. We do have a number of facilities that are under-enrolled, and certainly an argument could be made there are areas, some within reasonable proximity of each other, where consolidation of a facility might be warranted. Certainly that's an item that needs to be discussed. How that gets resolved, I don't now. The fact that we do have a handful of schools - there might be three, four, or where they are not at full enrollment - (it) doesn't obviate the need to take care of the rest of our inventory and to build schools where we see high growth. Scott: When we talked three years ago, you mentioned North Mecklenburg High School and held it up as the shining star of overcrowding and the need for more high schools in the northern part of Mecklenburg County. That situation has been addressed now. Are there other places around the county that are in as bad a shape currently as North Meck was back then? Guy: Myers Park High School is almost in the same shape in terms of the overcrowding as North Meck was three years ago. I would say one of our top priority projects going forward would be a high school to take care of the overcrowding at Myers Park. Secondly, perhaps West Charlotte. Otherwise, generally - with the exception of those two - the worst cases (of high school overcrowding) aren't that bad.