Who’s getting new schools? CMS releases construction list

A new home for Collinswood Language Academy and a huge new high school in southern Mecklenburg County are among the top-ranked construction projects presented to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday.

Board members took a first look at a 10-year, $2 billion plan for school construction, renovation and land purchases. Superintendent Ann Clark said she hopes Mecklenburg County commissioners will put a bond referendum on the ballot this fall, though County Manager Dena Diorio is not recommending a bond vote until 2017.

The school board made no decisions Tuesday. The presentation, which includes a 2-inch thick binder of details on individual schools and projects, kicks off a series of meetings that could lead to a bond request.

CMS staff ranked projects based on such factors as crowding and the condition of buildings. The top five are a new building for Collinswood; a new elementary school in east Charlotte; renovations at Harding High and Davis Military/Leadership Academy; and a new high school in southern Mecklenburg (see accompanying list for more).

Families from Collinswood, a K-8 magnet that teaches classes in Spanish and English, have spoken at several recent meetings, telling the board about problems caused by too many students with too little space.

Proposed new elementary and high schools would be 15 to 25 percent larger than those built in recent years, reflecting the reality that many schools currently spill into mobile classrooms brought in to extend capacity. For instance, recently built high schools such as Ardrey Kell and Hough have 100 classrooms. The new one, which would cost an estimated $98 million and relieve crowding at Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg, would have 125 classrooms.

New elementary schools, expected to cost $26 million, would have 45 classrooms, up from 39. No new middle schools are high on the list.

The building plan reflects an effort to expand suburban access to magnet programs and revive schools that were part of a controversial closing/merger plan during the recession.

For instance, new K-8 language immersion magnets would be built to serve southern and northern residents. The closed J.T. Williams Middle School in north Charlotte would be revamped and reopened, possibly as a Montessori magnet for middle and high school students.

The board will decide how much money to ask for and whether to rearrange the priority list. For instance, an ongoing review of student assignment policies could lead to changes in construction priorities.

County commissioners make the final call on how much to borrow for schools. Putting bonds on the ballot is a way of asking taxpayers to sign off on a line of credit.

The last CMS bond referendum was in 2013, when voters approved $290 million. That year Wake County voters approved $810 million in school bonds for a district that is slightly larger than CMS. That gap is often cited when CMS leaders talk about the need for a stepped-up construction plan.

The latest 10-year plan for CMS includes $60 million to buy land for three high schools and eight elementary schools. CMS officials say they need to act as fast as possible because large tracts of land become harder to find and more expensive to buy as the county develops.

The report says CMS already has land available for four new schools in the north suburbs, two in southwest Charlotte and one in west Charlotte.

In addition to the major projects, CMS says it will need $150 million over the next five years to repair aging facilities, including roofs, parking lots, athletic facilities and heating/air-conditioning systems. Diorio has proposed spending $90 million.

The documents with details about each school were not immediately available online, but CMS staff said they’re working to get everything posted at Check “2015-16 Budget/Capital Plan Information” under Spotlight.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

CMS Top 20

(Not included: $21 million in smaller projects at several unspecified schools.)

1. Build a replacement for Collinswood Language Academy (K-8) at the Tyvola Road site that used to house Smith Language Academy. $40 million.

2. Build a new elementary school in east Charlotte to relieve Windsor Park, Winterfield and Idlewild. $26 million.

3. Expand and renovate Harding High cafeteria and gym. $17 million.

4. Build a classroom addition at Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership Academy (K-12) to replace 1950s buildings. $20 million.

5. Build a new high school in south Mecklenburg County to relieve South Meck and Ardrey Kell. $98 million.

6. Build a replacement school for Montclaire Elementary. $26 million.

7. Renovate and replace West Mecklenburg High gym. $10 million.

8. Build a K-8 language immersion magnet school on the Smith Language Academy site. $40 million.

9. Build a new elementary school in southeast Mecklenburg County to relieve Bain, Lebanon Road and Piney Grove. $26 million.

10. Renovate Waddell Language Academy (K-8) to turn it into a magnet high school.

11. Build offices (location not specified) to house the CMS Family Center that will move out of the Smith site. $15 million.

12. Build a classroom addition at Sharon Elementary. $7 million.

13. Build a new elementary school in northeast Charlotte to relieve Hidden Valley, Grier and Newell. $26 million.

14. Renovate and replace classroom buildings at West Charlotte High. $10 million.

15. Build a replacement school for Shamrock Gardens Elementary. $26 million.

16. Build a replacement school for Briarwood Elementary. $26 million.

17. Renovate and replace classroom buildings at South Mecklenburg High. $11 million.

18. Renovate and reopen the former J.T. Williams Middle School, possibly as a Montessori middle/high magnet. $15.5 million.

19. Build a new K-8 language magnet in northern Mecklenburg County. $40 million.

20. Build a new “specialty facility” for students with disabilities at the former Statesville Road site. $18 million.

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