By Bill Horner III, Chatham News + Record
The growing student population of new Chatham Park residents and the projected growth of new industries such as VinFast and FedEx will necessitate the construction of new elementary schools in the planned community’s Northern Village and Southern Village – to open in time for the 2027-28 school year – and the rebuilding of Moncure School, Chatham County School Board members announced on Monday.
A presentation led by Operations Manager Chris Blice and Maintenance and Construction Manager Randy Drumheller said Chatham County’s growth projections have accelerated in recent months.
A December 2021 projection estimated that around 1,000 additional students from new families moving to Chatham Park would enroll at CCS between 2022-23 and 2031-32. New projections, however, show that number could be closer to 3,000 students. Two new elementary schools, an expanded Moncure School, additional classrooms at Margaret Pollard Middle School and redistricting in parts of the county would help accommodate growth, Blice and Drumheller told the board at its regular meeting in the board room of the central services of the CCS. office on West Street in Pittsboro.
Thomas Dudley, program manager for the Operations Research and Education (OREd) Laboratory, also participated in the presentation. OREd is part of NC State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education and provides data-driven facility planning solutions to school districts in North Carolina and three other states. OREd’s work focuses on district population and enrollment projections, determining the location of new school sites, creating new attendance boundaries, and examining demographic balance.
These accelerated growth projections and school capacity needs in Chatham County will be reassessed in January after OREd completes a comprehensive land use study; the new projections will also include the economic development of potential enrollment growth in the western part of the county.
But for now, the indications show:
- a new elementary school in the northern village of Chatham Park, to be designed from 2024, would relieve projected overcrowding at Perry Harrison Elementary and provide needed classroom capacity for Chatham Park and Perry Harrison/Chatham Grove PreK-5th students grade
- a new elementary school in the South Village of Chatham Park, also due to be designed from 2024, would meet the projected needs of primary school students and could serve as a temporary “transitional space” to facilitate the demolition and eventual rebuilding of the current Moncure School, which serves a K-8 student population
- according to a feasibility study, the largest rebuilt school in Moncure – which will be designed from 2026 and open in the fall of 2029 – would meet the enrollment needs of the projected growth in the population of pupils from kindergarten to kindergarten Chatham Park Grade 8 and New Chatham Park Project Grade 6-8 student population in Southern Village who will be impacted by new VinFast and FedEx industries planning nearby facilities.
Given current usable enrollment capacity, Seaforth High School, Northwood High School and George Moses Horton Middle School are large enough to meet projections, but Chatham Grove Elementary’s capacity will also need to be addressed, Blice said.
The biggest challenges, however, are at Perry Harrison Elementary, which has a capacity of 694 students, and Moncure School, with a capacity of 444. New 10-year projections place student enrollments at those schools to 1,250 and 1,334 students, respectively.
Blice called those numbers “conservative.”
Funding for construction of new schools and expansion of existing schools will need to be obtained from Chatham County through its Capital Improvement Plan process. No cost estimates were provided or discussed.
Council member David Hamm said the school system needs to be aggressive in thinking about student needs.
“We’re on the 8-ball side right now,” he said. “We don’t need to get behind the 8 ball.”
A full copy of the presentation is available at https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/meetings/TempFolder/Meetings/OREd%20Update%207.18.2022_329926cdtymc5q4k3xjvthjemzoe1o.pdf.
In other cases counsel:
- voted unanimously, after hearing a presentation from Chief Financial Officer Tony Messer and School Nutrition Business Manager Cecile Teague, to raise the price of school meals by 50 cents. Breakfasts will now cost $2 each, while lunches will increase to $3.50 each. The price increases are due to mandatory increases in salary costs for nutrition staff and higher food delivery prices.
- unanimously approved an update to the 2022-23 School Nutrition Officer Salary Scale, which included salary adjustments to reflect the new minimum hourly wage for school nutrition workers. This fiscal year’s move to a higher minimum wage — $15 an hour for all permanent full-time state employees — affected about half of CCS nutrition staff. The $250,000 cost of the higher pay scale will be mitigated by meal price increases.
- heard a first reading of a draft of CCS’s new “One Chatham,” its five-year strategic plan, by Dr. Amanda Moran, Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services and Academic Support, and Public Information Officer Nancy Wykle . The 2022-2027 plan, formulated through a series of focus groups, the superintendent’s “listening tour” and community surveys, will be shared at the CSC convening in August and presented publicly shortly thereafter. . Moran and Wykle provided an overview of the yet-to-be-finished document, which the duo described as a “living document” with measurable goals and progress monitors addressing more than 100 strategies and a dozen major goals.
- heard a request during the public comment portion of the meeting from Mary Nettles, the president of the Eastern Chatham branch of the NAACP, requesting permission to install a mural at George Moses Horton Middle School. The mural, which will be paid for by the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham and designed by renowned Durham-based artist David Wilson, would honor Horton and other African Americans who contributed to Pittsboro, including the Reverend Rufus V. Horton, Edgar Bland, Lillie Rogers. and Isaiah Taylor. Nettles said the mural would be placed on the exterior back wall of the school building housing students in grades 6-8.
- heard Seaforth High School student Hannah Ajayi read her winning essay from a competition sponsored by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, in partnership with the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham and Chatham County NAACP branches. Students were asked to examine the history of a subject of racial injustice and discuss its legacy today; Ajayi’s essay appeared in the May 19 edition of News + Record.
- heard an update from Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson on CCS summer training and learning for staff. Jackson provided key dates for upcoming orientation sessions. A back-to-school celebration will be held at Mosaic on August 20, while convocation is scheduled for August 24, open house on August 25, and first day of school on August 29.
- heard a plea from parent John Richardson, who cited what he described as “lies” from President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, as part of “evidence overwhelming” of covering up the damage to prevent the spread of COVID-19 causes to students. “I don’t want us to go down this road again,” Richardson said, referring to mandatory masking policies for students.
- acknowledged Janice Frazier, the assistant superintendent of human relations, who is retiring this month.
Board member Melissa Hlavac was absent from the meeting.
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