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Students at 3 Guilford County elementary schools could be displaced next school year due to planned construction
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Students at 3 Guilford County elementary schools could be displaced next school year due to planned construction

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GREENSBORO — Hundreds of Guilford County Schools students are likely to move to a different school while theirs is being renovated or rebuilt next academic year.

Students could be shifted from three Greensboro elementary schools as part of the district’s $300 million construction program to renovate or build new schools, Superintendent Sharon Contreras told Guilford County Board of Education members Saturday at their retreat.

Families at at least one of the schools could begin receiving letters from the district about their options as soon as a few weeks from now.

Planning and preparation for the district’s construction program took up most of the board’s retreat at Western Guilford Middle School.

The $300 million is expected to include construction or renovation of eight schools over the course of about four years, as well as buying land for projects in both this and later phases of the district’s facilities master plan.

Board members at Saturday’s meeting voted unanimously and with little discussion to authorize school staff to start negotiations with HICAPS/C2, a partnership of local firms, to manage the work.

And Contreras recommended the district rebuild Kiser Middle School in Greensboro as part of its “phase one” of work, but leave construction of Sternberger Elementary School until a hoped-for next phase.

School board members are expected to vote on the change to their plans at the board’s March 9 meeting.

A look back as residents assess damage the morning after the tornado on April 15, 2018, struck east Greensboro.

Last winter, with the help of consultants, school district leaders put forward a plan that called for spending more than $2.6 billion on school facilities over the next couple of decades. Just tackling the buildings deemed unsatisfactory would be likely to take $1 billion, consultants said.

Guilford County commissioners agreed to put a first-phase, $300 million bond on the November 2020 ballot, which voters approved 73% to 27%. But that amount is less than what the school district and consultants initially expected to have available for a first phase.

Consultant David Sturtz, who is working with the school district on the project, said the lower figure resulted in an awkward cutoff in their prioritization list for school projects.

In general, schools and school sites in worse condition are nearer the top of the list. As approved last school year, rebuilding Sternberger came in at No. 9 on the list with rebuilding Kiser at No. 10.

Sturtz predicted under that scenario the district could complete some, but not all of the work to rebuild Kiser before the money ran out.

The new recommendation would allow for the Kiser rebuild to be completed, but it means moving construction of Sternberger to a next phase that could be financed by another bond to be approved by voters in 2022 or 2023.

The district would use the small amount of leftover money expected to complete design work for Sternberger and another elementary school slotted for the next phase.

Kiser is on a tract of land that also includes Brooks Global Elementary School and Grimsley High School. The district expects to rebuild both Brooks Global and Kiser as part of this first phase.

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Leaders expect to put the new Kiser where the Grimsley baseball and softball fields are, temporarily sending the high school athletes elsewhere to practice and play.

They hope to fully renovate Grimsley as part of a second phase. During that work, the old Kiser Middle and Brooks Global Studies buildings would be used to house Grimsley students.

School leaders spent time Saturday talking about three elementary school projects that are likely to require moving students to other schools during construction.

Contreras said the district might send letters as soon as a few weeks from now to Archer Elementary School parents to offer them options for where to send their children next academic year among the schools in the surrounding area.

Archer will cease to exist as a school and the building will instead become the new home of Erwin Montessori magnet school. There’s no plan for the current Archer students to return to the building.

Erwin has been doubling up with Alamance Elementary in Alamance’s building for nearly three years, after a tornado damaged Erwin’s building in 2018.

Two other elementary schools may need to send students elsewhere in order to begin construction during the 2021-22 school year.

The district plans to rebuild Foust Elementary School on another part of the school’s site, but has some tricky decisions ahead about how to do it.

The school site is so narrow that running the school while also maintaining required exits and entrances for construction vehicles would be difficult, Sturtz said.

Alternatively, the district could give some or all Foust families their choice of spots in nearby schools, with the option to return to Foust when construction is completed. However, nearby schools may also be relatively full, Sturtz said.

Jackson Middle School had extra space at one point, he said, but now that’s being used by staff of the district’s middle school virtual academy.

Another option, he said, would be to use eminent domain to seize land next to Foust to allow enough space for vehicles to comfortably get in and out while school is still going on in the old Foust building.

Contreras pointed out that could have a side benefit of eventually allowing for more playground and green space at Foust. She said there’s an equity issue for students in urban schools who typically have less green space and playground space at their schools than students in suburban or rural areas.

However, board attorney Jill Wilson said seizing land by eminent domain is rare and often politically challenging for school districts in North Carolina, because they need approval from county commissioners who have to sign off before seeing the final price to be paid for the land.

Board member Anita Sharpe suggested postponing Archer’s renovation until after Foust is completed.

If the district dispersed the students who are currently in the old Archer building, but held off on renovation, Sharpe suggested the Foust students and teachers could move to Archer and stay together there until construction was complete on the new Foust building.

The two schools are about a five-minute drive from each other.

Contreras said she would discuss Sharpe’s idea with Sturtz and others before the next school board meeting.

At Claxton Elementary School, the site is also narrow and it would be improbable to operate a construction site and school there at the same time, Sturtz said.

He said they are recommending moving fourth and fifth grades together into excess space at Kernodle Middle School and kindergarten through third grades to the district’s old McIver building. Students would not need to move until construction began, likely in late 2021 or early 2022.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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