County gets outline of remaining CMS projects

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners learned more this week about $294 million worth of projects Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders say is vital to the system – including some $88 million that would be spent in south Charlotte.

Superintendent Heath Morrison presented his slimmed-down capital investment plan Tuesday, May 7, to county commissioners. The plan lists the 18 projects CMS leaders feel are both important and fit into a $300 million target range county commissioners set for the school board in earlier budget discussions.

“If you took every classroom, every school and put (their needs) all on a list, that comes out to a lot of needs,” Morrison said. The system’s 10-year plan lists $1.8 billion in possible projects, though Morrison was clear to point out his board isn’t asking for that money and is trying to work within the guidelines set by the county.

“Though we desperately … need a new high school in the south – that is one of our high-growth areas with many of our high schools overcrowded – if we suggested one high school project the cost estimates … would easily be around $80 million,” Morrison said. “So, if we knew we could only put in for $300 million, one project could take almost a third of those monies.”

The plan, as presented Tuesday night, includes five south Charlotte-area projects. The plan could get trimmed as county commissioners debate the package of projects and prepare to put a bond on a future ballot.

The biggest priority of the 18 projects was reopening Oakhurst and Starmount elementary schools, Morrison said. Starmount in particular would be a benefit to south Charlotte parents, as it would syphon off some students from overcrowded campuses at Huntingtowne Farms and Montclaire elementary schools. Opening both schools would cost nearly $6 million, according to Morrison’s presentation.

“The education at Huntingtowne Farms is not equitable for any of the students attending the school,” said one parent at Tuesday’s meeting. “That’s evident by the low student performance (at Huntingtowne Farms) compared to the other SouthPark-area elementary schools.”

The parent added that fixing school overcrowding is the first step in addressing student performance at Huntingtowne Farms, and “the most inexpensive and logical solution is reopening Starmount.”

A resident of the Montclaire neighborhood added, “A lot of our families leave our neighborhood once they have school-age children because they don’t have confidence in our neighborhood elementary school or the middle and high schools we’re assigned to.”

The eighth-ranked project is adding to and renovating Myers Park High School. The $22 million project would renovate the kitchen and cafeteria and add classroom space to remove the need for portable units.

The 10th-ranked project is at East Mecklenburg High School, where the school board wants to spend $12.7 million to add a 30-classroom building to cut down on the need for mobiles.

The 12th-ranked project is at South Mecklenburg High School, where two aging buildings need to be replaced with a 30-classroom building. The project, at $18.4 million, also would include a new kitchen and cafeteria.

The 15th-ranked project is the kindergarten to eighth-grade STEAM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, school in Ballantyne. The project, at more than $29 million, would provide relief for Ballantyne, Elon Park, Hawk Ridge and Polo Ridge elementary schools as well as Community House and Jay M. Robinson middle schools.

The school system’s capital projects will compete with projects requested by Central Piedmont Community College for the $300 million bond. The request from CMS makes up nearly that entire amount.

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