Report: Accelerated growth projections create need for 2 new elementary schools by 2027-28

An expanded Moncure School, additional classrooms at Pollard and redistricting will help accommodate growth, board is told

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PITTSBORO — Student population growth from new residents within Chatham Park and projected growth from new industries such as VinFast and FedEx will necessitate the construction of new elementary schools within 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 Board of Education members were told Monday.

A presentation led by Chief Operations Officer Chris Blice and Director of Maintenance and Construction Randy Drumheller said Chatham County growth projections have accelerated in the last few months.

A December 2021 projection estimated that about 1,000 additional students from new families moving to Chatham Park would enroll in CCS between 2022-23 and 2031-32. New projections, though, show that number could be closer to 3,000 students. Two new elementary schools, an expanded Moncure School, additional classroom space at Margaret Pollard Middle School and redistricting in some portions of the county would accommodate the growth, Blice and Drumheller told the board at its regular meeting in the Central Services board room at CCS’s central office on West Street in Pittsboro.

OREd’s involvement

Thomas Dudley, the program manager for the Operations Research and Education Laboratory (OREd), also took part in the presentation. OREd is a part of the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State and offers data-driven facilities planning solutions to school districts across North Carolina and three other states. OREd’s work addresses district population and enrollment projections, determining the location of new school sites, creating new attendance boundaries, and examining demographic balance.

Those accelerated growth projections and school capacity needs in Chatham County will be reassessed in January after OREd completes a full land use study; new projections will also include potential enrollment growth economic development in the western part of the county.

But for right now, indications show:

• a new elementary school in Chatham Park’s Northern Village, to be designed beginning in 2024, would relieve projected overcrowding at Perry Harrison Elementary and will provide needed classroom capacity for both Chatham Park and Perry Harrison/Chatham Grove PreK-5th grade students

• a new elementary school in Chatham Park’s Southern Village, also to be designed beginning in 2024, would address the projected elementary student needs there and could serve as temporary “swing space” to facilitate the possible demolition and reconstruction of the current Moncure School, which serves a K-8th grade student population

• depending on a feasibility study, the larger rebuilt Moncure School — to be designed beginning in 2026 and open in the fall of 2029 — would address enrollment needs from the projected non-Chatham Park K-8th grade student population growth and the projected new Chatham Park Southern Village 6th-8th grade student population, which will be impacted by new industries VinFast and FedEx, which plan facilities nearby.

Given current serviceable enrollment capacity, Seaforth High School, Northwood High School and George Moses Horton Middle School are large enough to meet projections, but capacity at Chatham Grove Elementary will need also addressed, Blice said.

The most significant challenges, though, are at Perry Harrison Elementary, which has a capacity of 694 students, and Moncure School, with a capacity of 444. New 10-year projections put student enrollment at those schools at 1,250 and 1,334 students, respectively.

Blice called those numbers “conservative.”

Funding for the construction of new schools and expansion of current schools will need to be secured from Chatham County through its Capital Improvement Plan process. No cost estimates were provided or discussed.

Board member David Hamm said the school system needed to be aggressive in thinking about accommodating student needs.

“We’re on the side of the 8-ball right now,” he said. “We don’t need to get behind the 8-ball.”

A full copy of the presentation can be found at https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/meetings/TempFolder/Meetings/OREd%20Update%207.18.2022_329926cdtymc5q4k3xjvthjemzoe1o.pdf.

In other business, the board:

• voted unanimously, after hearing a presentation from Chief Finance Officer Tony Messer and School Nutrition Business Manager Cecile Teague, to increase 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 driven by mandated increased wage costs for nutrition staff and higher delivery prices for food.

• unanimously approved an updated 2022-23 School Nutrition Manager pay scale, which provided pay adjustments to accommodate the new minimum hourly wage for school nutrition workers. The move this fiscal year to a higher minimum wage — $15 per hour for all permanent, full-time state employees — impacted about half of CCS’s nutrition staff. The $250,000 cost of the higher pay scale will be mitigated by meal price increases.

• heard a first read of a draft of CCS’s new “One Chatham,” its five-year strategic plan, from Dr. Amanda Moran, assistant superintendent for academic services & instructional support, and Public Information Officer Nancy Wykle. The 2022-2027 plan, formulated during a series of focus groups, the superintendent’s “listening tour” and community surveys, will be shared at CCS’ convocation in August and presented publicly shortly after. Moran and Wykle provided an overview of the not-yet-completed document, which the pair described as a “living document” with measurable goals and progress monitors addressing more than 100 strategies and a dozen or so major goals.

• heard a request during the public comments portion of the meeting from Mary Nettles, the president of the Eastern Chatham branch of the NAACP, requesting permission for a mural to be installed at George Moses Horton Middle School. The mural, to be paid by for the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham and designed by noted Durham-based artist David Wilson, would honor Horton and other African Americans who contributed to Pittsboro, including Rev. Rufus V. Horton, Edgar Bland, Lillie Rogers and Isaiah Taylor. Nettles said the mural would be placed on the outside back wall of the building at the school housing 6th through 8th graders.

• heard Seaforth High School student Hannah Ajayi read her winning essay from a contest sponsored by the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, in partnership with the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham and Chatham County NAACP branches. Students were asked to examine the history of a topic of racial injustice and to discuss its legacy today; Ajayi’s essay appeared in the May 19 edition of the News + Record.

• heard an update from Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson about CCS’s 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 Aug. 20, while convocation is set for Aug. 24, open houses on Aug. 25 and the first day of school on Aug. 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 “overwhelming evidence” of the harm masking to prevent COVID-19 spread causes to students. “I don’t want us to go down that road again,” Richardson said, referencing mandatory masking policies for students.”

• recognized Janice Frazier, the assistant superintendent for human relations, who’s retiring this month.

Board member Melissa Hlavac was absent from the meeting.

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