Friday, December 8, 2017

Chapel Hill High - Top Construction Priority

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education met Thursday night at Smith Middle School to discuss next steps to addressing facility renovation and potential capacity needs in the district. 

Given the limited amount of available funding and the significant increase in construction inflation (driven by natural disasters around the country and rising construction demand in the region), the district’s concern is to balance elementary school capacity needs driven by the NC General Assembly mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 with the current renovation needs of many of our facilities.

The General Assembly has mandated that class sizes in grades K-3 be reduced, but have provided no funding for this mandate. This presents significant challenges in capacity, recruiting teachers and staff, potential increases in class sizes for our fourth- and fifth-grades, redistricting and negative impact to world language, art and music. The investment in Lincoln Center was originally planned to provide elementary school capacity, which would allow phasing for renovations at elementary schools. This mandate increased our need for capacity to mitigate the above issues.

The board and administration, in consideration of input from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, parents and community members, voted unanimously to move forward with addressing health and safety needs by reconstructing Chapel Hill High School.

It is important to note that upon completion of Chapel Hill High, there is still a significant need for resources to rebuild other schools.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese asked audience members for help with the following three areas:

1. Class size legislation. The new state law that reduces K-3 class size needs to change. It can’t be implemented without taking drastic measures or spending tens of millions of dollars. We need state legislative level advocacy and a unified statewide approach to get the attention of those in charge at the General Assembly. An active letter writing campaign and outreach to other districts’ PTAs would help.

2. We are navigating the Chapel Hill High approval process with the Town of Chapel Hill. We are seeking Town Council assistance in meeting our project approval date, and their assistance financially with required road improvements. Parents and community members should stay engaged as that process unfolds.

3. As a community we need to figure out how to become much more nimble. We started this process in 2009-2010. I knew then that the high school needed a complete overhaul.  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. We still have seven remaining older schools that also need a lot of work: Estes, Phillips, Seawell, Ephesus, Carrboro Elementary, FPG, and Culbreth.  At the rate we are on those won’t be completed for 50 years and someone (it won’t be me) will have to be figuring out how to renovate Chapel Hill High again. A discussion with the commissioners about another bond and additional funding needs to start now and we have to figure out a more expeditious way. This will take significant community engagement and resolve.

The Board, superintendent and staff would like to thank everyone for the input that has been so graciously provided, and the entire school district looks forward to future support as we pursue access to the necessary funding.

The meeting can be seen in its entirety at the following links: