GREENSBORO — A proposed $2 billion facilities master plan for Guilford County Schools would touch on every school in the district, with major projects to rebuild Page and Southern high schools and create a new high school in the county's ever growing northwest area.
It would also eliminate the district's more than 500 mobile and temporary classrooms and consolidate most of nearly a dozen scattered administrative offices into one facility.
Work would be broken into phases, possibly two or three phases of five years each, spread out across 10 or 15 years.
The new proposal was created by Cooperative Strategies, the district's new consultant, and endorsed by Superintendent Sharon Contreras. It has a larger price tag, a wider scope and some key distinctions from a prior proposal brought forward by former consultants on whose earlier work it is partly based.
School administrators shared the proposal Tuesday with a joint facilities committee that includes county commissioners and school board members. They plan to discuss plans to pay for the proposal at a meeting on Dec. 19.
David Sturtz, a partner with Cooperative Strategies, said the average school building in Guilford County dates to 1966, and that like a lot of school districts, Guilford County Schools is stuck with a glut of schools built in the '50s, '60s, and '70s that are now in poor shape.
He said with better building standards, schools today are constructed on a quality level that's more like the solid builds of the 1920s. But in the middle decades of the last century, he said, people built schools cheaply and quickly to educate the baby boomers. They also made some questionable design choices, especially in the 1970s.
Counties like Guilford have tried to keep up mid-decade schools, he said, but found themselves falling behind on renovations and replacements, and overwhelmed by the deterioration.
“Eventually those chickens come home to roost," he said.
The proposal calls for rebuilding 22 schools on existing sites, including Page and Southern, two of the district's large high schools.
Workers would build a new $86 million Page on the site of neighboring Cone Elementary, which would be demolished under the proposal. The existing Page would be torn down and that area turned into athletic fields.
Southern High would be rebuilt on its existing site for about $55 million.
The plan also calls for constructing seven new schools, including a new $71 million high school in the booming northwest area of the county to alleviate crowding at Northwest High School. The new high school would be an aviation magnet high school, with 800 seats for students from its attendance zone and another 400 for interested students from elsewhere in the county.
The plan works to balance out crowding and underutilization of schools in various areas of the county, as well as to satisfy demand for magnet programs.
Some schools would close, such as Murphey and Wiley elementary schools in Greensboro.
Others would combine, such as Southern Elementary and Sumner Elementary in the southern part of the county. And some schools would expand their age range, such as Jackson Middle School in Greensboro, which would become a K-8 magnet school.
The plan pulled together by Cooperative Strategies includes some elements not included in what MGT Consulting Group proposed in its $1.5 billion plan released in February.
For example, the new proposal includes safety, security and technology upgrades for all schools, even recently built ones. And it has a plan for overhauling the district's network of administrative buildings, which MGT scored, and called unsatisfactory in many cases, but did not include in its plans.
Under the new proposal the county would close, and potentially sell, 10 of the district's 12 widespread administrative offices and instead combine them into a new $31 million school administration building on a new site.
The district would repair its English Road office in High Point and Washington Street Annex building in Greensboro. It would also scrap the existing transportation facility and build two new $13 million transportation and maintenance facilities, one in Greensboro and one in Jamestown or High Point.
After the presentation, school board member Anita Sharpe and county commissioners Vice Chairman Jeff Phillips both had questions about previous spending by the county on school buildings.
Sharpe asked Sturtz if he'd considered how much money had been spent on each school in his proposals.
He said he had not based his judgments on what sums were spent where and when, although what was spent previously would likely be reflected in the condition of the building, and the cost to replace versus renovate.
Phillips said he understood, but it could be difficult to think about replacing a school if it had received $20 million or $30 million in renovations in recent decades, even if the school was still in replacement-worthy condition despite the renovations.
"We are in a position to have to consider what we’ve done in the past," he said.
Commissioners Chairman Alan Branson told Sturtz he worried taking on the debt needed for $2 billion in school construction and renovation would be a burden on the back of middle income families. Sturtz said the consultants' financial adviser tells him the district has low total debt ratios per capita in comparison to other counties in North Carolina.
"There's room to make significant investments without getting out of that top tier bracket in terms of fiscal conservatism in that way, fiscal responsibility," he said.
After the meeting, school board Chairwoman Deena Hayes-Greene said she thinks the proposed master plan could be a financial benefit to taxpayers because the county and schools are taking a more systematic proactive approach than in past years. So if taxpayers are going to have shell out for school building needs anyway, they might as well be paying for good schools built to last and building strategies designed to meet educational needs.
She also said good schools help create a healthier local economy.
Contreras and her staff plan to continue working with consultants over the next few weeks to prioritize the recommended building and renovation projects and come back with a proposal for funding two or three phases of construction over the next 10 to 15 years. They expect to share that with the joint committee at 9 a.m. Dec. 19, at a location to be determined.
Chief Operations Officer Scott McCully said that in January they plan to hold public presentations to share the details of the proposal. Those presentations could vary, he said, and perhaps include small group meetups or efforts over social media.
In February, they would hold public hearings to get feedback from the public.
They hope to hold a vote by the joint committee sometime in February, he said, on recommendations the committee would then share with the school board and county commissioners.
School facilities meeting
A new, $2 billion master facilities plan for Guilford County Schools is being discussed by a joint committee of commissioners and school board members. Among the proposals, Page and Southern high schools would be rebuilt, a new high school would be built in the northwest part of the county, five elementary schools would close and some schools would be combined. Check out the full report here.