Buncombe County Board of Education members agreed, at their Feb. 5 meeting, to spend up to $50,000 for a detailed study of growth in the county, before asking voters to approve a bond referendum to fund new schools.
The school board had discussed future school-construction projects during a retreat in Winston-Salem the previous week. According to a list of proposed construction options discussed at the retreat, the board is hoping to schedule a bond vote by May 1999.
Another report prepared for the retreat included color maps showing different redistricting scenarios associated with the different construction options. However, the board did not discuss changing the school-district boundaries at its Feb. 5 meeting.
But Jerry Rice of Candler, who had attended the board's Winston-Salem retreat as an observer, criticized it for "getting the cart before the horse.
"You did a lot of work, but it could be for naught," Rice warned, adding, "Facility planning should have took priority before the retreat."
Rice said he feels it's a waste of time and money to hire a consultant after school-system staff have already put together an extensive report on school-attendance zones and various options for constructing future middle schools in the Enka, Erwin and North Buncombe districts.
School-board chairman Wendell Begley disagreed.
Traditionally, the board has looked at the feeder-school "pipeline" to know where the growth would be coming from for middle and high schools, Begley said. The study, he added, will help board members pinpoint where growth is likely to occur and allow them to fine-tune their construction plan.
"I think we've taken a very realistic approach before spending $38 million," Begley declared, referring to the projected amount of the bond issue.
But Rice pointed out that, if the county schools want $38 million, the actual amount voters would be asked to approve would be closer to $45 million. In the past, he noted, all school-bond revenues have been split with the Asheville City Schools, which have received a per-pupil allotment.
The board is considering the following options (costs are estimates only, and adjusted for projected inflation):
• Option I, $21.5 million: New middle school between North Buncombe and Erwin for 800 students ($14.1 million); new Enka Middle School for 400 students ($7.4 million).
• Option IA, $23 million: New middle school between North Buncombe and Erwin for 800 students ($14.1 million); additions and renovations at Enka for 1,300 students ($8.9 million).
• Option II, $22.4 million: New middle school between Erwin and Enka for 800 students ($14.1 million); new North Buncombe Middle School for 400 students ($8.3 million).
• Option IIA, $21.2 million; New middle school between Erwin and Enka for 800 students ($14.1 million); additions and renovations at North Buncombe for 1,150 students ($7.1 million).
• Option III, $27.3 million: New middle school at Enka for 400 students ($7.4 million); new middle school at North Buncombe for 400 students ($8.3 million); new middle school at Erwin for 600 students ($11.6 million).
• Option IV, $27.3 million: Additions and renovations at North Buncombe for 1,150 students ($6.8 million); additions and renovations at Enka for 1,300 students ($8.9 million); new Erwin Middle School for 600 students ($11.6 million).
The retreat report also listed each option's perceived advantages and disadvantages.
If a new middle school were built between Leicester and North Buncombe (options I and IA), it "would result in students spending an inordinate amount of time on school buses," according to the report.
On the other hand, a new middle school between Erwin and Enka (options II and IIA) would be the "easiest and most efficient consolidation from a transportation standpoint and more adequately addresses overcrowded conditions at Erwin and Enka," the report states.
If new middle schools are constructed in the Enka, Erwin and North Buncombe districts (option III), it "would overcome all objections concerned with middle school students attending schools out of district, but would cost more than providing middle schools which combine districts," according to the report.
The board also wants to renovate some existing middle schools and add onto some existing elementary schools, as follows:
• Option V, $8.9 million: Addition and renovation at Glen Arden Elementary ($5.8 million) and Fairview Elementary ($3.1 million).
• Option VI, $6.9 million: Additions to North Buncombe Elementary ($2.4 million), West Buncombe Elementary ($3 million) and Weaverville Elementary ($1.5 million).
• Option VII, $17.4 million: Renovations to Owen Middle ($5.6 million), Erwin Middle ($6.4 million) and Reynolds Middle ($5.4 million).
In other business during the regular monthly meeting, board members approved a prototype architectural plan for new middle schools, which they say will save taxpayers thousands of dollars. The plan will be used first on a new Cane Creek Middle School.
But local architect Alan McGuinn, whose daughter will be attending the school, cautioned the board that it could be risky to lock themselves into a plan that might not be adaptable to every site.
"We have spent a tremendous amount of money on architectural fees," said Begley, in defense of the prototype plan. "Some schools in this county are monuments to their architecture. This plan draws a good balance."
The board also approved a plan to increase the capacity of the new Cane Creek Middle School from 500 students to 800.