Kannapolis City Schools searching for an architect to explore A.L. Brown expansion

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 24, 2021

KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown High School is running out of space, and Kannapolis City Schools is starting to explore next steps for the school.

The Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education held interviews with architecture firms during called meetings on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to choose a firm to perform a campus study at an upcoming meeting.

It is common for public boards to form relationships with architecture firms to oversee capital projects. KCS Superintendent Chip Buckwell said the district does not have a preferred architect and these meetings aim to address that. KCS Chair Todd Adams said the school board has “a lot to consider” because some of the interviewees were outstanding.

The following are the six firms who interviewed with the board:

  • SGA, out of Charlotte
  • McMillan Pazdan Smith, out of Charlotte
  • Ratio, out of Raleigh
  • Smith Sinnett, out of Raleigh
  • Little, out of Charlotte
  • YCH, out of Concord

The district has seen sustained growth in its student population, and A.L. Brown, the district’s only high school, has quickly grown from about 1,300 students to 1,600. The district is expecting more growth from new developments being built in Kannapolis and the downtown revitalization project.

Buckwell said the district wants to begin the process of assessing the high school now rather than waiting until it has a problem.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the game a little bit,” Buckwell said.

The district has about 5,500 students and estimates it will have 6,000 students by 2030. Buckwell, however, said he thinks that is short of where the district’s population will be given the expected growth in Kannapolis.

More than addressing just the space issue, the district wants to expand what A.L. Brown can offer students. It currently offers 13 of 16 career preparation categories allowed by the state, and the district is trying to grow programs as fast as it can. The school just added a new mechatronics class and plans to add a masonry program.

“We’re really making some inroads into careers for kids that don’t require them to go right out of high school into college,” Buckwell said.

Capital projects of significant size are major commitments for small districts when compared to major metropolitan school districts. For smaller districts, it can require a significant capital commitment from county boards of commissioners that provide capital funding for any significant project.

Adams said creating a long-term master plan for the campus should save KCS money in the long run.

“Until we really know what this campus needs to look like in 20 years, we don’t know what is a good idea and what isn’t a good idea,” Adams said.

Adams said A.L. Brown High School, which opened in 1952, is the heart of the town and it is important the district keep it in the best shape it can be for decades to come.

“I think we need to be a one high school district,” Adams said. “The reason for that is equity.”

Adams pointed to the number of programs at the high school like the aforementioned technical fields, its dance studio, theater program and others the district has invested in that would not be built into a possible new campus.

Buckwell said the board is looking for a group that can project what the school needs. That’s not just more classrooms. The district is looking at ways to use spaces differently. Buckwell pointed to the recently built West Cabarrus High School, which has office space for teachers and shared classrooms like a university setting, as an example of a different use of space.

The district also wants to form a relationship with an architect so it can address other projects, including building a gymnasium for Jackson Park Elementary. Fred Wilson Elementary needs more space because of growth as well.

“There’s opportunities for growth across the district and finding the right architect is really important,” Buckwell said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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