Forums begin for Knox-Overton construction plans

Published 12:10 am Thursday, April 13, 2023

SALISBURY — With the go-ahead to move forward on a joint campus construction project for Knox Middle and Overton Elementary school students, the school district is seeking input about the process from residents through multiple community forums.

The first of those public forums was held at Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ administrative building on Wednesday morning, and the primary concerns expressed were about how the resources would follow the students who were forced to relocate during the construction process.

During the event, RSS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Withers explained how the process would look in student and staff terms.

“We have to reassign students during the construction build,” Withers said. “We work with a company called Numerix, which helps us draw the lines. They work with our transportation department to see exactly where our students will be assigned based upon a lot of factors.”

The forums are intended to help determine factors that will have the most impact on parents and students served by the schools. Some of the factors Withers brought up included geography and transportation needs.

Throughout the construction phase, Knox Middle School students will be relocated across Erwin, North Rowan, Southeast and West Rowan middle schools. Most of those student reassignments would fall on North Rowan and Southeast middle schools, but district data indicates those schools also had the most available capacity.

Students from Overton Elementary would be reassigned to Dole, Hurley, Isenberg, Koontz and North Rowan elementary schools.

With the student reassignments come challenges that Spencer Police Chief Michael File addressed.

“The one concern that has come up to us is what the potential is for additional staffing as far as school safety is concerned,” File said. “We haven’t been involved in the conversation about school safety, but we have serious concerns about putting in a 40 percent population increase to the middle school and not having a corresponding increase to school safety.”

According to the chief, such a stark uptick could present problems.

“We see what is going on in our communities daily,” File said. “We see the problems going on with the older siblings and the parents of our students. Unfortunately, we know the trickle-down effect occurs. We are going to see that same type of problem trickle down to our school.

“When you add a couple of hundred different students into the mix from different parts of the county, we need to anticipate that and be prepared for that. We ask the school system to support us in providing additional coverage via some full-time resource officer staff.”

School safety was one concern Spencer Mayor Jonathan Williams shared, but the strain on resources also stands out to him.

“You can’t take a counselor and cut them into three parts,” he said.

Williams indicated the city is not opposed to taking new students into its area schools.

“We just want to have a solid plan in place for when those students are transferred to North Rowan area schools,” Williams said. “My concern is making sure that with already overburdened and overtaxed staff and our current resources, that as we add additional students from an area of high need, that the resources are equitably distributed wherever those students go.”

There is a need, he said, to be sure resources are equitably distributed.

“The equitable way to distribute them is to make sure that the population that is distributed with the highest needs, that those resources go along with them,” Williams said. “Don’t just look at the bus routes and what the distances are or what the schools can hold from a capacity standpoint. Look at what the schools can hold from a resource standpoint.”

At the forum, Rev. Dr. Robert Black of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church added, “I’m glad this is happening. It’s long overdue.”

Discussions for constructing new schools at the Knox and Overton location have been ongoing for a long time. The superintendent indicated on Wednesday that fluctuating construction costs had forced the district to consider various options, but that after working with LS3P, the engineering and design firm planning the new site, a kindergarten through eighth grade concept that combined both schools on one campus would allow the best cost per square foot.

There are three remaining community forum events.

One occurs today, Thursday, at Knox Middle School at 1625 West Park Road in Salisbury.

On April 17, the forum is scheduled for Southeast Middle School at 1570 Peeler Road in Salisbury.

The final forum will take place on April 18 at North Rowan Middle School, located at 512 Charles Street in Spencer.

All meetings begin at 6 p.m.