Second site switch for proposed western elementary

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education switched tracks yet again Monday when it voted to pursue the current site of Cleveland Elementary for the location of a consolidated western elementary school.

This is the second time in a month the board has considered a different site for the proposed school. On July 18, the board voted to begin negotiations for a 40-acre parcel of land on Foster Road after parents raised safety concerns over the intended site, located at the intersection of N.C. 801 and Godbey Road.

The Foster Road parcel was the most expensive of the board’s choices, with an estimated $2.1 million in upfront costs, including $1.2 million to install gravity-fed water and sewer lines, and recurring annual costs of up to $125,000 for the life of the school.

But the owner of the Foster Road parcel rejected the board’s initial offer, saying the desired location for the school would make the rest of the property difficult to sell. The owner offered the board a “40-acre sliver” of land on the north side of the property, a 60-acre piece or the entire 114 acres listed for sale.

Residents of Foster Road were also displeased with the initial choice, and Monday morning submitted a letter of protest with 133 signatures, encouraging the board to “choose a place for this school where it will be welcomed.” The letter also objected to the lack of a community meeting before the board chose to pursue the property.

George and Marian Drexel live at 875 Foster Road, a house that would abut or be wrapped by the school if it were to be built there. Marian said they found out about the plan when a neighbor knocked on their door at 8:30 a.m. on July 19. Marian said they were “devastated,” and the couple set to work with others in the community to collect signatures — most, George said, were opposed to the idea.

“It was quite upsetting to hear this from all the neighbors,” he said.

Board member Travis Allen said it might be time to retire the fight for a neutral location.

“When you realize the horse is dead it’s time to get off it,” he said.

Allen was a strong advocate for a neutral site for the proposed school. Board member Susan Cox, who also advocated for a neutral site, said that she too realized “the horse is dead.”

Board member Dr. Richard Miller said that the board needed to make a decision — Woodleaf, with only a single working well, was a “disaster waiting to happen.”

Board member Jean Kennedy said that the board listed Cleveland and Woodleaf elementaries as a priority one for replacement in 2010, and in the meantime, prices continued to rise.

“Here we are, 2016, and we’re still picking land. Let’s move on,” she said.

Several members of the board also voiced concerns that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners would not approve the parcel, due to its high cost and need for its own water and sewer lines.

A unanimous vote removed the Foster Road property from the discussion. George Drexel said that it was a start, and said he was thankful to his neighbors for mobilizing so quickly.

The vote left the board with two viable options: the Godbey Road property, which board members stated in previous meetings has a “stigma” due to its proximity to Southern Power, and the current site of Cleveland Elementary, which the board previously rejected in hopes of acquiring a neutral site between the Cleveland and Woodleaf communities.

After further discussion, where the board discussed what the opinion of the county commissioners might be, Miller made a motion to pursue the current site of Cleveland Elementary. Cox seconded.

The Cleveland site has an estimated cost of $2 million for property acquisition and preparation. The parcel has enough acreage for the new school to be built while the original structure is still standing and in operation as a school. However, the property does carry demolition costs of the original structure once construction is completed, as well as road widening costs and the demolition of another structure on the site. It is the only site that does not require ongoing sewer and water line maintenance costs.

The motion passed 4-2, with Kennedy and Allen voting against. Board member Dean Hunter was absent.

In an interview after the meeting, Allen said that he wasn’t opposed to the Cleveland site, but that he had promised to advocate for a neutral location.

In other business the board:

  • Looked at alternative school accountability for Henderson Independent High School.
  • Approved a policy for field trips.
  • Directed staff to talk to coaches about the possibility of allowing sixth graders to participate in school sports.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.