RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Commissioners Monday approved a motion to acquire a Winn-Dixie store in Wake Forest and convert it into a ninth-grade center for Wakefield High School.
Beginning in 2007, ninth-grade students will go to school there, as part of an effort by the county and school leaders to ease overcrowding in the Wake County Public School System.
The school system wants to lease the old grocery store for 10 years for about $5 million. It will cost about $7 million more to renovate the facility, and take six to 10 months to renovate it. It can take three years to find the land and build a school from the ground up.
"It's something we can get on the ground and open faster," said incoming Wake School Superintendent Del Burns.
Burns says that turning existing buildings into schools plays a small but important role in the effort to find more space for the ever-expanding Wake County school system.
That's because existing buildings are often located in prime areas where land is already developed. It's also faster to convert an existing building into a school rather than begin construction on a new school.
"It only makes sense that we look at all the options," said Wake County schools facility director Don Haydon.
But school system employees and board members admit that converting existing buildings into schools is not a huge money saver.
For example, it cost nearly $20 million -- about the same price that it would cost to build a new school -- to renovate an old medical supply building in Apex that is now Lufkin Road Middle School.
Using the old buildings has other costs. Lufkin's gymnasium, for example, has a support beam in the middle of the court, which forces the school to compete in all its sporting events away.
The school system is growing by 6,000 to 7,000 students each year. Even if there were an unlimited supply of money, there really isn't enough time to build all the new schools that are needed immediately.
School leaders say converting buildings, such as the Wake Forest Winn-Dixie, is still a better alternative than waiting for new schools.
School board member Beverly Clark says new ideas have to be part of the future.
"It's critically important, I think," Clark said. "Looking at different building types is part of that change."