Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has kicked off its crusade to urge county commissioners and community members to pass its $798-million bond request that could make up for a decade of antiquated repairs.
The school board advanced the request to county commissioners last December, but board members have come forward to urge the community to recognize CMS’s capital needs.
A large push to accommodate facility needs came after accreditation organization AdvancED told CMS it was way behind on improving infrastructure, starting with eliminating mobile classrooms. The current bond request would eliminate 300 mobile units.
The bond would accommodate 28 projects, allocating $169.3 million to District 5 and $130.1 million to District 6. If it were to pass, as is, it would be the largest bond CMS has ever passed, according to board vice chair Elyse Dashew.
Replacing rundown schools
CMS has 78 schools that were built more than 50 years ago and has plans to use bond funds to build five replacement schools, including for Collinswood Language Academy, Lansdowne Elementary and Montclaire Elementary, which is still 33 percent over capacity even after Starmount Academy reopened.
The replacement elementary schools will follow a new model with 45 classrooms and would seek to eliminate mobile units. Collinswood, a K-8 magnet school that is currently 87 percent over capacity, has more mobile classrooms than brick-and-mortar.
Lansdowne, which is 9 percent over capacity, was pushed up the priority list after Matthews commissioners set zoning limitations on the number of mobile units that could be placed on nearby school Elizabeth Lane Elementary School’s campus. When built, the school will pull south Charlotte students from Elizabeth Lane.
“When we looked at the possibility of providing some relief for Elizabeth Lane, we combined that with Lansdowne,” Chief Operating Officer Carol Stamper said.
Clark said new classroom construction at Elizabeth Lane wouldn’t be possible, even without zoning limitations, as the school’s common spaces couldn’t accommodate more students.
Overcrowding has significantly impacted south Charlotte, particularly in area high schools, as common spaces can’t accommodate the growing population. Seventy-eight percent of schools are at or over capacity.
Students have lunch as early at 10 a.m., with students eating lunch outside the cafeteria. Twenty thousand students learn in 1,100 mobile classrooms across the district.
The bond would fund 10 new schools that would reduce overcrowding at 20 others, including Elizabeth Lane, Elon Park, Polo Ridge, Sterling and Hawk Ridge elementary schools and Ardrey Kell, Myers Park, Olympic and South Mecklenburg high schools.
Pushing for renovations
Thirteen projects are renovations and additions, including work at South Mecklenburg High, Sharon Elementary, East Mecklenburg High and E. E. Waddell Language Academy.
The proposed plan would eliminate all mobile classrooms at Sharon Elementary; replace two buildings and add 30 classrooms at South Meck that would accommodate Career and Technical Education, ROTC, arts, social studies, Exceptional Children and world language programs; renovate three buildings at East Meck that were constructed between 1949 and 1956 to support EC, world languages, arts and English courses; expand access to CTE offerings at South Meck and Olympic; and completely revamp Waddell to create a language magnet high school.
Waddell, which was originally designed as a high school, is currently used to house a K-8 language immersion magnet program, so CMS is opting to create two language immersion magnet programs to the north and south areas of county.
Clark said CMS must be “good stewards” of their facilities and feels they can’t ask for new high schools, when they have available high school space. She added high school space is “critical” in the southern part of the district.
West Charlotte High, one of CMS’s oldest schools, also made the renovation list, but BOE members questioned why they didn’t opt for a replacement school. Ericka Ellis-Stewart suggested using Waddell as a “swing” school for West Charlotte, postponing the high school magnet program, or to increase the bond request amount.
Clark explained CMS has taken a “building-by-building approach” because finding space for a new high school can be difficult. She said Waddell could prove geographically inconvenient for students and she worried about pushing back opening up more magnet seats. The current request could open up to 4,000 additional magnet seats.
The BOE said this bond just scratches the surface of its about $2 billion worth of needs. CMS said the current request doesn’t account for new schools; replacement schools; replacement facilities and multi-school sustainment projects.
“Two billion dollars isn’t getting any smaller,” Dashew said. “The buildings that need to be renovated aren’t getting any fresher … schools are not getting any less crowded. We’ve fallen behind the eight ball and it is what it is. It’s time to catch up.”