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CMS prepares for new school bond projects

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  • 2007 bond projects

    Here’s the status of the construction and renovation projects promised when voters approved $517 million in bonds for CMS in 2007. The recession slowed progress as the county restricted borrowing to hold down debt payments. Dates are actual or anticipated completion.

    Completed

    •  New schools: Berewick Elementary (2009), Hough High (2010), River Gate Elementary (2009), River Oaks Elementary (2009), Stoney Creek Elementary (2009), Ridge Road Middle (2009), Rocky River High (2009), Whitewater Middle (2009).

    •  Renovations: Alexander Graham Middle (2012), South Mecklenburg High (2012), West Charlotte High (2008).

    In progress

    •  New schools: Grand Oak Elementary (Torrence Creek relief, 2013), elementary to relieve Lake Wylie (2014)

    •  Renovations: Bain Elementary (full replacement, 2013), East Mecklenburg High (2014), Garinger High (2014), Independence High (2015), McClintock Middle (full replacement, 2013), Myers Park High (2016), Pineville Elementary (full replacement, 2013), Ranson Middle (2015), Vance High (2014).

    Coming

    •  New schools: Elementary to relieve Hickory Grove, Reedy Creek and Grier (2015); elementary to relieve David Cox and Mallard Creek (2016).

    •  Renovations: Newell Elementary (full replacement, 2015); Garinger High track and field (2014), Hawthorne (2016), Olympic High stadium and field (2014), West Mecklenburg High stadium, track and field (2014).

    Revised

    • New prekindergarten addition proposed for Grier Elementary has been moved to the new school that will be built nearby.

    Eliminated

    • Renovations for Amay James Prekindergarten Center and Davidson IB Middle were not needed after CMS closed those in 2011.



Leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are gearing up to launch a new round of school construction and renovation, even as they work to complete the projects promised when voters approved $517 million in bonds six years ago.

“I think it’s appropriate to begin by looking back,” Superintendent Heath Morrison said as he introduced a report on “Promises Made, Promises Kept.”

After voters approve a bond package, county officials borrow that money over the course of several years. That borrowing slowed dramatically during the recession, as the county tried to restrict its debt. Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain told the board that borrowing for CMS projects dropped from $210 million in 2008 to a $10 million in 2012.

That means some of the 2007 bond projects have not begun. CMS recently learned that a new school to pull students from the crowded Highland Creek Elementary won’t be launched for another year.

But Chamberlain and Morrison said CMS has done everything in its power to honor bond promises, with many projects coming in under budget.

“Every project that we have promised to deliver, we delivered,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain and his staff have begun ranking projects for the coming 10 years, based on such factors as crowding, safety issues and need to replace or renovate aging buildings. That list will be presented at the board’s March 26 meeting, along with a revised plan for improving school safety.

CMS leaders have talked about putting a new bond referendum before voters in November.

Board members noted some of the challenges of past bonds campaigns.

“We have always struggled with (calculating) building capacity,” said member Rhonda Lennon, who led a parent group fighting for new schools in northern Mecklenburg County before she was elected to the board. In past years, CMS faced questions about capacity formulas that created inconsistent results.

Chamberlain said the latest formula will look at the ratio of “core space” in school buildings – such as cafeterias, libraries, hallways and restrooms – to the number of students, who are sometimes housed in mobile classrooms.

“What can we do to assure the public of equity across the community?” asked member Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said the ranking formulas don’t assure geographic balance but should assure people that priorities are based on school needs.

Morrison and board members voiced concern about losing control over construction priorities. In 2011, Mecklenburg County commissioners set aside the CMS rankings and used their own system to decide which CMS projects would come up for borrowing, ranking them alongside parks, libraries and other county projects.

And a bill recently introduced to the N.C. Senate would let county commissioners assume control of school buildings. Morrison said he hopes CMS can convince county and state officials that CMS has a good record and should retain control of decisions that affect education.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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