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Design phase next for K-8 facility to replace Knox, Overton

SALISBURY – A K-8 school built between Knox Middle and Overton Elementary schools took another step toward reality on Monday night as the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education voted to begin design contract negotiations.

The project, with a cost estimate of $50 million, would combine the student populations of Knox and Overton, which would be closed and demolished.

The K-8 option gained traction after public response to the possible closure of Overton in a plan that would have performed extensive renovations to Knox and ultimately led to the closure of Overton.

Architecture firm LS3P prepared a floor plan for the new facility to show it could fit in the property between the two schools to support about 1,000 students, with the ability to support about 1,200 if the student population grows and with an addition. The motion to negotiate a design contract passed 4-2, with Vice Chair Travis Allen and board member Dean Hunter voting against. Board member Josh Wagner was absent from the meeting. 

Board member Alisha Byrd-Clark, whose district includes Knox and Overton, made the motion.

The board spent an extended amount of time during the meeting discussing other possible closures. At the work session on Jan. 13, the board asked the administration to bring options for redistricting and consolidation to the board, and RSS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann returned Monday night with a presentation that examined whether to close Henderson Independent High School but contained no recommendation. Vann’s presentation recommended the board approve a study to close Enochville Elementary School. The board didn’t vote to do either Monday night.

During a public comment period earlier in the meeting, teachers from Enochville and a community member with a child who attends Enochville came forward to support the school.

Surplus facilities have been an issue plaguing the district for years. Superintendent Lynn Moody pointed to the excess of schools when she became superintendent six years ago. 

Discussion meandered around the timeline and what would be closed, in what school year closures would happen, how many would close at once or how closures would be spaced out, an explanation of criteria for why a school would be closed and so on. Moody said Enochville’s closure was brought to the board based on the student population, which is the lowest of all the elementary schools in the county.

Hunter said he was hesitant to vote “yes” on next steps for a K-8 option earlier in the meeting, since that would prevent the Overton students from being displaced, when the board would be discussing the fate of another elementary school later in the meeting.

Moody pointed out the continued failure to make decisions on school closures. One of the examples she gave was discussion about closure of North Rowan High School.

“That was a very painful thing to say out loud,” Moody said. “We knew that it would be very difficult to do. We had no less than eight public hearings, and then decided not to do anything.”

Moody shared a sentiment echoed by board members that she does not want schools to close. The faculty from closed schools would likely be reassigned to other schools within the district.

“We’re not saving money. We’re trying to keep a school building open and faculty paid and curriculum going,” BOE member Susan Cox said. “And when you have too many schools, then you are using money that you don’t have that’s watering everything down. So, I look at it as we are acting on the behalf of the student, because we are trying to give them a physically safe environment, provide quality curriculum and have enough staff in order to give them a quality education.”

Ultimately the board passed a motion made by Hunter to direct the administration to move forward with a plan to close a number of elementary schools based on the data collected by the Capital Needs Committee for the 2021-22 school year instead of 2020-21. Barring any change of direction, no schools would close next school year.

The motion passed 3-2, with Chair Kevin Jones and Jean Kennedy dissenting. Byrd-Clark left earlier in the meeting.

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