Guilford County moves forward with $2 billion plan to renovate

Northwest%27s+trailers%2C+which+needs+rebuilding%2Frennovation.+The+new+master+plan+will+help+with+these+out-dated+facilities.
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Guilford County moves forward with $2 billion plan to renovate

Northwest's trailers, which needs rebuilding/rennovation. The new master plan will help with these out-dated facilities.

Northwest's trailers, which needs rebuilding/rennovation. The new master plan will help with these out-dated facilities.

Northwest's trailers, which needs rebuilding/rennovation. The new master plan will help with these out-dated facilities.

Northwest's trailers, which needs rebuilding/rennovation. The new master plan will help with these out-dated facilities.

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On Nov. 26, Guilford County Schools released its three-phase facilities master plan which asked for $2 billion for renovations to improve the facilities of all 125 schools in the district. 19 schools will be renovated, 56 will be repaired and 22 will be rebuilt; seven new schools will be built while 13 schools will be closed. This plan will take 10-15 years to complete.

But how does the county plan to pay for such a plan?

Guilford County leaders discussed in a subsequent meeting on Dec. 19 to add a ballot referendum on an upcoming election for Guilford County residents to vote on a .25 cent sales tax increase. The referendum must first be approved by Guilford County Commissioners; if commissioners agree, then citizens of Guilford County will vote. A majority vote yes will raise the county’s sales tax to 7.25 percent.

This plan was a long-time coming, starting with the vision of Sharon Contreras. In 2017, the Joint Capital/Facilities Committee, comprised of three members from the Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners, was created to solve the issue of poor facilities and overcrowding.

“Our district has experienced problems with cold/hot classrooms, leaky roofs, outdated facilities that don’t support 21st century learning,” Chief Operations Officer of Guilford County Schools Scott McCully. “The average age of our facilities are over 51 years old. The (MGT Consulting study) rated more than 50 percent of the district’s facilities in poor or unsatisfactory condition.”

When you put money and effort towards improving the education facilities, it helps to improve the education itself.”

— student ambassador and senior Kema Leonard

The figure $2 billion was created with MGT Consulting’s study in mind with an additional $500 million for investments in technology, safety and security updates, decided by Cooperative Strategies–a school facility planning firm–who created the long range facility master plan.

“MGT Consulting was hired to determine facility condition for all schools and administrative buildings,” McCully said, “and to provide guidance on student attendance boundary changes. The final report, presented on July 31, 2018, suggested a comprehensive plan costing roughly $1.5 billion.”

Schools like Page High will be rebuilt on a preexisting site, like on the campus of Cone Elementary next door, and their previous location will most likely be turned into an athletic field. Most of the schools being closed with this plan are elementary schools; however, crowding from closures is not predicted to be an issue.

“New or renovated schools will be constructed to be larger,” McCully said. “Different grade configurations in new schools and expanded choice options (will help alleviate crowding from closures).”

Similarly, Northwest Middle School will undergo drastic changes.  These changes includes redistricting Colfax and Stokesdale elementary boundaries to schools in the Southwest and Northern parts of the district, respectively. It will then be torn down and relocated, freeing up more space for Northwest High, which currently resides right next to it.

“We will have all that land for our disposal,” Principal of Northwest High Ralph Kitley said. “We don’t know exactly what for, but it will probably be practice fields. (Plus) the traffic situation will be better.”

In this plan, Northwest High and the surrounding schools will receive nearly $137 million dollars for repairs and renovations to their facilities. Northwest High will receive nearly $8 million dollars which will include security, technology, and educational improvements to the school. Plus, there will be an aviation school, with roughly 1,200 new seats, built to alleviate the overcrowding issue at Northwest High–currently at 133 percent utilization. There will be 800 traditional high school seats and 400 CTE for growth. With new schools in the area, Northwest High facilities will drop to a 114 percent utilization.

“I don’t think this will solve our overcrowding issue,” student ambassador and Northwest senior Kema Leonard said. “Around 20 years ago, Northern High School was built to help with the overpopulation at Northwest. That solution worked for a few years, but new housing and development was built, and it ended up being a temporary solution. I think the aviation magnet school is a temporary solution, but they also changed the fact that Kernodle Middle School students will now go to Western instead of Northwest. I think this will last a little longer, but I don’t think it won’t be permanent.”

Although Northwest High’s percent utilization is projected to go down by 19 percent, this pales in comparison to the projected 83 percent utilization of Grimsley High School. Meanwhile, other schools in the district–such as Andrews High and Dudley High School, currently at 66 percent and 82 percent utilization respectively–will drop significantly more than other high schools in Guilford County; the latter decreasing by nearly 21 percent utilization. However, percent utilization is not the only factor in which schools get rebuilt or renovated or such.  

“A facility condition assessment (FCA) score was determined for each school in the MGT Consulting study,” McCully said. “Sorting the schools by the FCA score with a secondary sort on combined score provided a ranking from worst to best conditions, taking into account HVACs and other internal systems. With exceptions, schools that had a FCA score of <60 were recommended to close or rebuild. Other factors include input from the maintenance department, site size, and new programs.”

Some schools get more funding due to size, condition, as well as accommodating a growing Specialized Healthcare magnet, where students will specialize in an in-demand area of health science studies.

“I do like the magnet programs to a certain extent,” Leonard said. “The design and STEM academies and programs she’s trying to implement will make a happier and better learning environment.”

This plan will be implemented in five-year intervals, and it’s still relatively new in the process. New plans to make K-8 schools, new design and new programs lends itself to some uncertainty; however, many seem hopeful about the future of this master plan.

“I hope this passes, because it’s a good step,” Leonard said. “It’s important because it’s $2 billion worth of taxpayer dollars that’s being put back into our school systems. We’ve been complaining for years. We have these trailers that are crumbling; I love the fact that she’s trying to get rid of all trailers in the county. When you put money and effort towards improving the education facilities, it helps to improve the education itself. Environment is very important, and improving that will (incentivize) students to learn (and try) a little more.”