RALEIGH, N.C. — A citizens committee made recommendations to Wake County leaders and school system officials on how to better plan for new schools to accommodate the growing student population.
The 228-page report by the 13-member Citizens' Facilities Advisory Committee looks at how Wake County, compared with eight other school districts, should select sites, design schools and better manage construction.
Among its key recommendations
is increasing land banking – buying land now before it is gone.
"We've got schools that are not under way now because the land hadn't been acquired for them," said committee Co-chairman John Mabe. "And they need to be built, and it will relieve overcrowding, if you go ahead and get this land."
Mabe also recommended that schools take on urban designs, be compact and energy-efficient.
Other recommendations, however, sparked debate among committee members, county leaders and school board leaders, including those to reduce parking spaces, combine cafeterias with auditoriums and reconsider athletic activities.
"We would suggest that the school system consider the athletic programs and what they cost and are there other ways to provide those facilities," said committee Co-Chairwoman Billie Redmond.
The committee's findings will act as a blueprint. The Board of Education must consider the recommendations and decide what plan of action to take.
"We will be getting feedback from parents and the community about some of these recommendations," school board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said. "So, before we take any actions, the public will have a chance to respond to it."
Wake County has tried thinking of nontraditional ways to provide schools to accommodate the thousands of students who enter the public school system each year, including converting a manufacturing plant to an elementary school, which is set to open next year.
Other school projects, however, have not gotten past the land-purchase stage. School officials wanted land in Rolesville for a new middle school and made a $3.5 million offer, which was higher than the appraised value, to the owner.
County commissioners, however, would only approve the purchase for $2.6 million, and the owner refused the lower offer.
By 2025, enrollment in Wake County schools is expected to double, to nearly 250,000 students. School leaders project, at that point, they will need 45 new elementary schools, 20 new middle schools and 17 new high schools.
"Every single day, we're spending three-fourth of a million dollars on school construction," Wake County commissioner Joe Bryan said. "That should be Priority 1 in terms of ensuring that that money is being invested wisely."