School board member Joal Broun is “leaning toward” making the Chapel Hill High School rebuild project the priority when the board decides Thursday how to spend 2016 bond money.
Because of high construction costs, the board will likely have to choose between that project and the redevelopment of the Lincoln Center campus, which administrators say would help manage the new class-size mandate.
“Chapel Hill High is the most expensive project, and if we don’t do it now, we’re going to have to pay more for it later,” Broun said.
The school board has moved the 7 p.m. Thursday meeting to Smith Middle School, 9201 Seawell School Road, expecting a lot of Chapel Hill High parents upset over a recommendation to put the school’s rebuild on hold.
High construction costs, driven by a building boon in the Triangle, have 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.
The total bill for the Lincoln Center project is now about $38 million. The Chapel Hill High project is now expected to cost a little more than $64 million at completion.
District administrators have recommended moving ahead with the Lincoln Center redevelopment, which would give the district its long-awaited, centralized per-kindergarten center for 189 students. That would free classroom space in elementary schools, as the district tries to meet state-mandated smaller K-3 class sizes.
But more than 1,200 residents have signed a petition supporting the Chapel Hill High project. And dozens have flooded board members’ inboxes.
“In my opinion, having over 1,400 high school students studying in hygienic, safe, updated facilities should definitely take priority over renovating the Lincoln Center, which would benefit a much fewer number of students,” wrote Tim Rose, a 1990 graduate of the school who said he has a son who will attend Chapel High in two years. “I voted ‘Yes’" for the bond because of the repairs to the High School. I look at your decision to use the funds for the Lincoln Center as an abuse of public trust.”
The Chapel Hill High project 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.
Amy Fowler, a newly elected member of the board, agrees that the high school should be the top priority if the board has to choose.
“For me, it serves a larger number of people,” she said.
After Chapel Hill High, Fowler said the district could see what is left for Lincoln Center or use the balance for other capital needs.
Fowler said the district could continue to operate its pre-K program in elementary schools. She said centralizing services at Lincoln Center might, in the future, restrict how many children the district can serve.
Both projects needed
School board Chairman James Barrett said the district needs both projects, but the pre-K classrooms are needed to meet the state mandate of which the district is exempt until 2020 due to its participation in Project ADVANCE, new skills-based pay model designed to add supplemental pay to teachers’ income based on professional development.
Under the class-size mandate, the school district would need more than 40 classrooms, some of which already exist, and approximately 40 new teachers.
Barrett said the district needs to come up with a creative solution to make both projects a reality.
‘I’m looking for a plan to achieve both of those goals,” Barrett said, declining to select one.