Value of school renovations a focus of Wake bond debate
Posted September 24, 2013
Garner, N.C. — Supporters of an $810 million bond for school construction and renovation on Tuesday turned Garner Magnet High School into the poster-school for why they say Wake County voters need to approve the bond next month.
Dehumidifiers run nonstop in the 46-year-old school's library to fend off mold, and 14 modular classrooms as far as a quarter-mile from one end of the school house students in the overcrowded school.
"They have been here at least as long as I can recall, including 1992, when I was a student," Principal Drew Cook said of the classroom trailers.
The school bond, one of the major issues on the local ballot in the Oct. 8 election, would pay to build 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. Almost $245 million of the bond would go toward major renovations at six schools, including Garner High, and to replace aging heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing systems at dozens of other area schools.
"This will cause a tax increase, but it's worth it. We need to make the investment," said Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Enrollment in the Wake County Public School System is projected to increase by 20,000 students over the next five years, and Bryan and other officials said the new and renovated schools will help the district keep up with the growth.
Critics of the bond say they don't question the need for the renovations. They just question the cost.
"There are six renovations that cost at or more than what building a new school would be," said Duane Cutlip, vice president of the East Wake Republican Party, one of several groups urging voters to defeat the proposal.
Cutlip said the bond would put the county into too much debt. Repaying the bond also would add 5 cents to the county's property tax rate, meaning it would add $75 to the annual tax bill of the owner of a $150,000 house.
A bond focused strictly on school construction isn't worth the cost, he said, calling for more discussion of school building needs.
"If it's not going to help academics, we want to take a closer look at it," he said.
At Garner High, which is slated to receive $67 million in upgrades from the bond, Cook said buildings can have everything to do with academics.
"Some of our kids can talk to you, perhaps, about the frustrations involved with sweating through an (end-of-course) exam or a couple of years ago taking the SAT in the two-story building where the sewage overflowed," he said. "They got to listen to the hum of a sump pump while taking the SAT. These are the kinds of things that we deal with every day."