cleveland woodleaf school folo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
After hearing from concerned residents, the Chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education said Tuesday the school system will likely offer county commissioners an alternative to the proposed combining of Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools.
Though the school board voted Monday to make the combined school the top priority on its annual list of capital requests submitted to commissioners, Chairman Jim Emerson said Tuesday that the idea is not set in stone.
Emerson said the Rowan-Salisbury School System central office received several calls of concern from community members Tuesday.
“We wanted to assure them there was nothing in concrete,” he said. “This was just a proposal that was made.”
He also stressed that the school board will hold public hearings in each community before making a final decision.
“Nothing will take place without us having hearings in the communities,” Emerson said. “We’re not going to decide anything.”
Although school board members didn’t discuss an alternative request Monday night, Emerson said the board will probably also send another option to commissioners that would ask for funding two separate schools to replace Woodleaf and Cleveland, both opened in 1927.
Emerson said he’s not personally fond of the idea of a consolidated school, but “the good argument for having one consolidated school is about $10 million.” Cost estimates for building one school to replace Woodleaf and Cleveland add up to about $21 million, while two new schools would cost around $31 million.
He said the school system’s “chances of getting $20 million are greater than getting $30 million.”
But combining the schools would result in the county’s largest elementary school to date, with about 900 students, school system officials say.
If commissioners did give the school system money to buy the land for one new elementary and the school board decided against building a combined school, Emerson said, the system would likely use the money to purchase land to replace either Woodleaf or Cleveland.
He said the change in plans would require going back to the commissioners.
“We wouldn’t be able to do anything without their OK on it,” he said.
County Commissioner Tina Hall said that for Cleveland and Woodleaf, going from relatively small, community-oriented schools to a much larger, combined elementary school would be a big transition.
She said input from the two communities is essential.
“The schools depend on support from their communities. Before you move forward, you need that,” she said. “It’s just like a foundation. You have to have that good foundation of support from those communities.”
Hall also said schools are a big investment and one of the questions she would ask is whether school officials have fully investigated water supply issues at Woodleaf. Rowan-Salisbury officials say the school has only one functioning well and attempts to drill more have been unsuccessful.
“You’ve got to be able to answer to the citizens that you’ve investigated all these areas,” she said.
Cleveland Mayor Jim Brown said he had mixed feelings about the proposed combined school after learning of it Tuesday.
While he’s sure combining the two schools could reduce costs, he said, “Larger is not always better.”
“I understand the situation. I understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “We’ve got an excellent school in Cleveland; but on the other hand, I don’t want to get in the way of progress either.”
Brown said he hasn’t heard from any Cleveland residents yet, but one thing that concerns him over the entire county is what happens to old school buildings when a new one is built. He said there’s one such building in Cleveland already and, if a mega school is built, the area could end up with two more.
“I would like to see the school board make plans to do a good job of marketing the old buildings, not just abandoning them and letting them go to pot,” he said. “I think what they do with the old schools is very important and it’s not something to just be left to chance.”
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or