Chapel Hill could get new middle school

Friday, April 22, 2011

A new middle school in Chapel Hill might be built before the end of the decade, according to discussion at the school board's maintenance committee meeting Tuesday.

"There are bonds coming due in 2014 and 2015," said Donnie Moses. "That's the first time a big amount of money will be available. I'd like a new school to be at the head of the list."

"Yes," agreed committee chairman Randy Perryman. "The issue in Chapel Hill is that both schools are full."

Acting assistant director of schools Dr. Larry Miller, former principal of Forrest School, suggested building a middle school for grades 4 through 8. That way, he said, "you have an intermediate school where you could attack academic weaknesses in 4th to 6th grade," and get students ready for a successful high school experience.

Miller pointed out that a new middle school in Chapel Hill would create empty classrooms at both Chapel Hill Elementary and Forrest, leaving room for growth at both schools.

"It's the only logical way to help both schools," Miller concluded. He added that a middle school for grades 4 to 8 is in line with middle-school teacher certification, which is also for those grades.

Committee members predicted that population in the north end of the county would continue to grow.

"I don't see us slowing down," said Harvey Jones Jr., the 2nd District member of the school board.

"We need to have a plan ready," Perryman said, cautioning that traffic flow would have to be addressed as a priority in planning a new school.

"Get some numbers together," urged Barbara Kennedy, and maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis advised that a new school should be "over size."

"Don't build for today, build for tomorrow," Davis exclaimed.

His department is wrestling with a series of maintenance issues, including a big crack in one of the walls at Forrest. Davis presented committee members with a series of photographs of the crack. One showed a quarter held up for scale, showing that the gap in the wall is wider than that common coin. Davis added the problem with the wall had also caused the adjacent roof to leak. He attributed the crack to the ground settling under the foundation at that spot.

Kennedy asked him if nearby blasting could have caused the ground to shift, and Davis said they were looking into it.

Perryman asked if the crack changed according to whether the ground was wet or dry, and Miller said, "No, it just gets worse."

Committee members decided to recommend to the full school board that a structural engineer be hired to give an opinion on how to repair the wall, and also how to address drainage issues around the buildings at Forrest.

The meeting also included discussion of pressing needs at other schools, including new gym floors and replacement of obsolete fire alarm, phone and intercom systems. On a positive note, they learned from Davis that the energy-saving work being done by Siemens should be finished by the end of the summer break.