Study to target possible sites for new school

“I think we just took the next step,” said Mecklenburg Board of Supervisors Chairman Glenn Barbour on Monday morning after the group voted unanimously to hire a consultant to find suitable sites for the proposed consolidated middle/high school.
The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors responded on Monday morning to the Mecklenburg School Board’s January proposal to replace the county’s four middle and high schools with one consolidated school at the population center of the county between Boydton and South Hill. The supervisors agreed to the consolidated school plan but stopped short of specifying a particular location.
Barbour explained that the supervisors could not commit to any specific site or area until more details are known. He added that as previously discussed throughout the process, the supervisors would consider costs and other factors such as time and distances to be traveled by all students.
Vice Chairman Gregg Gordon told the group that he had prepared a map based on the school board’s Jan. 17 proposal. With both the geographic center of the county and the so-called Route 4 site marked, Gordon said the proposal puts students from the western end of the county at a severe disadvantage.
The map, said Gordon, shows that the proposal “discriminates against the entire side of our county.” He added that as proposed the radius leaves out his entire district and much of Supervisor Andy Hargrove’s district as well. The radius also leaves out most of the Route 15 corridor and several other well populated areas.
“Until we talk about the details, we can’t draw these lines in the sand and say it’s got to be at this location,” Gordon said.
Supervisor Jim Jennings agreed. He added that the population figures discussed by the school board are not written in stone.
“It’s a floating number,” said Jennings. “Five years from now they can change. We absolutely want to do what’s best for the children, of the far east and the far west. We don’t want to skew it. It should be fair for everybody.”
Returning to Gordon’s point, Barbour said he felt the project could not move forward without knowing more about possible suitable sites for the school.
“In my opinion, based on the resolution, I think what we need to do, the next logical step, would be to hire an engineer, an architect, and start looking at actual sites,” said Barbour.
Barbour added that at this point, no one is even sure how large a site will be needed, what sort of access roads will be required or what sort of site work will be required. It is difficult to talk about a site, he said, when you don’t know what you need with the site.
Jennings said he felt the Property Committee and Joint Education Committee should be involved.
“This is a big decision,” said Jennings. “We certainly want to get it right.”
“Suppose they pick four sites. Are they going to list all the costs? The pros and cons of each site?”
Supervisor Glanzy Spain asked. “We need to move forward. We need to figure out how much we need, how much it will cost.”
Barbour suggested that the group vote on the School Board’s Jan. 17 resolution and then offer another resolution to hire a consultant to help find and evaluate possible sites.
Assistant County Administrator Judy Sheffield asked who would be responsible for hiring the consultant. County attorney Russell Slayton said the school board is within its rights to hire a consultant in the matter.
Supervisor Dan Tanner pointed out that the map prepared by the school board shows a different central point for the county. Gordon pointed out that their center was based on the population center of the county instead of the actual geographic center.
“What was said all along was that transportation is not an issue. Now we’re hearing it is,” said Tanner, adding that people have to drive to get to their jobs every day. Buses, he added, are going to be a cost factor. Tanner concluded by saying he does not want the school board members to feel that the supervisors are trying to make the decision.
Barbour stressed that is why he wants the Joint Education Committee to be involved. Tanner said that he also wants to Property Committee involved.
Barbour replied that the first thing that needs to be done is to find suitable sites that would meet the needs of the facility.
Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols asked if the architect would be looking at sites or also putting together a plan for the school.
Barbour replied that the consultant’s role would simply to be to look for suitable property that would meet the needs for a new consolidated school.
Spain then expressed concern about “pushing” the school board.
Barbour again said that is not the intention and that he felt any engineer-architect could identify possible sites based on the number of students and other requirements.
Jennings agreed that the county has to keep the process moving forward.
Barbour again stressed that he does not want the supervisors to overstep.
“I want everyone to know that we’re not leaving the school board out,” said Barbour. “But, we need someone to guide us on what we should be looking at. I want to make sure we have clarity on this motion. I want us to come together and draft an RFP (Request for Proposals) for an engineering firm to help determine possible site locations, costs, pros and cons.”
On a motion from Supervisor Claudia Lundy, the motion passed by unanimous vote.
During the citizen comment session later in the meeting, School Board Member Dale Sturdifen told the supervisors, “We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but the closer we get the harder it’s going to be.” Sturdifen told the group that he has concerns about hiring an architect at this stage. Sturdifen pointed out that the school board will have to vote on the location and said he feels it will be better to hire one architect to conduct the site search and the design work.
Barbour explained that the hope is that a consultant can find several possible sites and study them in order to come back with several options, the pros and cons, and costs of each, and then for the committees to return to make their recommendations to both boards.
Barbour repeated that he feels the pressing issue is to come up with suitable locations before moving forward. He also stressed that the Joint Education Committee will be involved in the process, which includes three supervisors and three school board members.
Both boards, Barbour said, would work together in the search.
Lundy said the supervisors are simply hiring a consultant to identify possible sites.
“The school board is going to hire the architect,” she said.
By unanimous vote, the supervisors adopted the resolution to move forward with the hiring of a consultant to identify possible sites for the new school.