Chapel Hill High School will be rebuilt under a plan approved by the school board Thursday, Dec. 7.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education approved the plan recommended by district administrators during a meeting attended by more than 200 vocal parents, teachers and students who demanded the board keep its promise to rebuild the school, which was built in 1966 and is now in disrepair.
The Chapel Hill High project is expected to cost a little more than $64 million at completion. It includes two new academic buildings, and renovation to the Cultural Arts and gymnasium/cafeteria buildings. It would address flooding and air quality issues, safety and security concerns and correct handicap access issues, among others.
“I’m very pleased,” said Sara Ruotsala, the mother of a sixth-grader and first-grader who lives in the high school’s district. “They let us know that there are a lot of other problems and that they’re going to need our help.”
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The vote to move forward with Chapel Hill High means the Lincoln Center redevelopment, which would give the district its long-awaited, centralized per-kindergarten center for 189 students, will be put on hold.
Administrators initially recommended tackling the Lincoln Center project first because it would free classroom space in elementary schools so the district could meet state-mandated smaller K-3 class sizes.
“I feel like it was the right decision,” said Amy Struck, who does not have children at the high school but lives in its attendance zone. “I think they will make Lincoln Center a priority but secondary to the high school.”
The school board was forced to choose between the two projects because high construction costs, driven by a building boom in the Triangle, caused the price of the two projects to soar to an estimated $102 million, a 40 percent increase over the initial projection of $73 million.
Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services, told parents gathered at Smith Middle School where Thursday night’s meeting was moved in anticipation of a large turnout, that the district will need help lobbying the General Assembly to address the hardships created by the class-size mandate.
“An active letter writing campaign and outreach to other district’s PTAs would be a good start,” LoFrese said.
He said parents can also help when the high school project goes before the Chapel Hill Town Council for approval by staying engaged.
LoFrese said the community will need to help figure out how to become more “nimble” so that projects aren’t in the planning phase for such long periods of time.
“We started this process in 2009-10,” LoFrese said. “I knew then that the high school needed this level of work. Yet the funding and approval process is still occurring and we don’t have a shovel in the ground. It’s eight years later. No wonder the costs have gone up.”
The school board also agreed to hire a construction manager at risk to oversee the project. The construction manager at risk is usually a general contractor who oversees the construction project but does not bid on it or perform any work.
The process differs from the more traditional “design-bid-build” model. Under that model, projects are developed by the district, designed by a professional designer, publicly bid and then awarded to the low-bid contractor.
“It will allow us to pre-value engineer the project, have a better handle on costs so we avoid additional surprises,” LoFrese said.
The vote to rebuild Chapel Hill High came after the winners in the 2017 school board race -- incumbents James Barrett and newcomers Amy Fowler and Mary Ann Wolf -- were sworn into office. Joal Broun, also an incumbent, was scheduled to be sworn in but missed the meeting due to a death in the family.
The board elected Rani Dasi to serve as chairwoman and Margaret Samuels vice chairwoman.
Broun and Fowler said earlier this week if they had to choose between the two projects, Chapel Hill High would take priority.