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CMS looks at ways to expand area high schools

The results of November’s 2013 bond referendum will decide if some of the district’s oldest and overcrowded high schools in south Charlotte will get upgrades and additions in coming years.

The referendum will go to Mecklenburg County voters Nov. 5, asking for $290 million for projects in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and $210 million for Central Piedmont Community College. Seventeen projects, including six from south Charlotte, are included in the CMS package.

In an ever-growing south Charlotte, many of the district’s schools are experiencing overcrowding and are forced to find refuge in clusters of mobile classrooms right on school campuses. But Guy Chamberlain, associate superintendent for auxiliary services, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is now planning high school growth with a new model, as building new high schools comes with an overwhelming price tag.

Schools like South Mecklenburg, East Mecklenburg and Myers Park high schools all have campuses that are above and beyond capacity. But to build a new high school in south Charlotte would be fiscally irresponsible, Chamberlain said, especially with the price of land in the area. Chamberlain said building a new high school could cost the district about $60 million.

South Charlotte also is experiencing over-development, Chamberlain said, and the amount of space needed to build a new high school just isn’t available.

“Generally speaking, there are no more mid-point pieces of property anymore,” Chamberlain said, speaking of property that falls directly between overcrowded high schools. A high school takes “50 acres – that’s very expensive in the south part of the county.”

That’s why the district is working to add more classrooms in some of south Charlotte’s high schools and adding upgrades to ensure the schools will last. Chamberlain said a new model for area high schools may mean raising the average number of students per high school to 2,500 rather than the current 2,000 to allow for more growth.

Currently, schools like East Mecklenburg High School aren’t even up to the baseline number of classrooms required by the district. That’s why they’re up for a $12,744,000 addition that would include a multi-story, 30-classroom facility that would allow the school to expand its enrollment capacity. The project also would provide relief space to eventually renovate other parts of the campus that date back to 1949. The project is scheduled for an August 2018 delivery.

Additions for South Mecklenburg and Myers Park high schools also will be included on the bond referendum to update buildings on the campuses from the 1950s and provide more room for students. Both schools have some of the highest enrollments in the county, in addition to encompassing some of the oldest facilities. Both projects are scheduled for August 2018 deliveries.

“East, South, Olympic and Myers Park are probably the worst condition high schools that we have,” Chamberlain said.

At Myers Park, the $22.25 million project would include the replacement of three-classroom buildings with a multi-story classroom building and other renovations to the school’s cafeteria and kitchen. At South Mecklenburg High School, the $18.36 million project includes the replacement of the two oldest buildings on the campus, creating a new kitchen and cafeteria. The project also includes renovations to the existing cafeteria to provide space for the school’s growing population.

The bond referendum includes six projects in south Charlotte overall, the first being the reopening of Starmount and Oakhurst elementary schools, which would provide overcrowding relief for Montclaire and Rama Road elementary schools in south Charlotte starting August 2015 if the bond is approved. Renovations at Selwyn Elementary, East Mecklenburg, Myers Park and South Mecklenburg will come in 2018 and Ballantyne could expect its new science, technology, engineering, arts and math kindergarten through eighth-grade school to help with overcrowding in 2020.

“We need twice as much (money) that is going to the voters, realistically,” Chamberlain said.

To learn more about the 17 CMS projects, visit

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