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Woodleaf residents express consolidation opinions

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

WOODLEAF — It’s been two weeks since the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted to pursue a property in Cleveland as the site for a combined western elementary school, but in Woodleaf the decision still smarts.

“The combined is not so bad,” Jacob Watson said, “it’s the location.”

Watson was running a produce booth for Wetmore Farms Saturday at Woodleaf’s Tomato Festival, along with Allison Cranford and Laura Watson. The three attended Woodleaf for elementary school, and Laura said she’d hoped her future children would go to the school, as well.

But with a bad well and a touch-and-go septic system, they’ve become resigned to the merger — but not the location.

For more than a year, the school was slated to be built at the intersection of N.C. 801 and Godbey Road, but the board began looking at alternate properties when the community raised safety concerns about the heavy traffic on 801 and the proximity of Southern Power.

In June, the board opted to pursue a 40-acre parcel of land on Foster Road — a decision that Jacob described as a terrible idea. The Foster Road parcel, though neutral, was the most expensive of the alternative properties presented to the board — costing $2.1 million upfront, with annual, recurring costs of up to $125,000 for water and sewer maintenance.

Two weeks ago, the board switched tracts again after the property owner rejected its offer, and the Foster Road community submitted a petition protesting the decision. This time, it retired the push for a neutral property and chose to build the combined school on the current site of Cleveland Elementary.

It was a decision that ruffled a few feathers in Woodleaf. Like the group running the Wetmore booth, most didn’t object to the merger itself.

“I think it’s sad, though, that Woodleaf gets left behind,” Shelia Grubb said. Grubb is from Woodleaf and currently lives in Salisbury, but said she has family attending the school.

Her friend, Annette Renko, summed up her thoughts more succinctly,

“I think it bites,” she said.

Renko said she has grandchildren who have attended Woodleaf. Both Renko and Grubb said they wished a neutral property had been chosen. Allison Cranford suggested that they could have built the school next to West Rowan Middle, on U.S. 70.

John Thompson of Woodleaf said he doesn’t see much of a problem with the merger or the location — the area already has a combined middle and high school.

“So I don’t really see why it’s such a big deal to have a combined elementary school,” he said.

Sarah Moore, of Cleveland, was for the site — saying it made the most sense. The Cleveland site, while more expensive than the Godbey Road site with an upfront estimated cost of $2 million, has access to water and sewer, making it the only site option without line construction and recurring line maintenance costs. Being in Cleveland also puts the school close to fire and EMS stations, she said.

And for Woodleaf Elementary, time is running out.

“I know Woodleaf needs a new school, period,” she said.

But current Woodleaf students interviewed were very attached to their school. Karlie King, a fifth-grader, said she didn’t think the school had many problems aside from poor water pressure. Karlie will be in middle school by the time the new elementary school opens in 2018, but she argued that Woodleaf Elementary is still important.

“It’s an old school,” she said. “It has a lot of history.”

Fifth- grader Mahaley Mays said the school is “big enough” and said that she didn’t want the consolidation to happen. It’s not fair to the community, she said, or to students living far away from Cleveland who will have an extended commute.

“I just think it’s not right,” she said.

 Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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