School board considers adding and eliminating campuses

  • PFA Architects Architectural Design Studio presented designs for the new school in Peachtree, which would house the alternative school for both middle and high school students (now called The Oaks Academy), a new career and technical education school, and Tri-County Early College High School.
    PFA Architects Architectural Design Studio presented designs for the new school in Peachtree, which would house the alternative school for both middle and high school students (now called The Oaks Academy), a new career and technical education school, and Tri-County Early College High School.

    Marble – The future was on the minds of Cherokee County Board of Education members Thursday night.
    After seeing architectural plans for the new school building, which will house the alternative school for both middle and high school, the career and technical education school and Tri-County Early College High School, thoughts turned to the potential future high school that could share space on the property, as well as the future of other schools in the county. To provide more time to look over plans, board members decided to continue the meeting to 3:30 p.m. today at Murphy Middle School.
    "We've got to get this right," board member Tim West said. "We want to get the most for our money."
    As the evening progressed, the immediate future of one school in particular was in question. After learning there would be no cost difference in ideas on routes for sewage pipes to a new drain field at Martins Creek Elementary/Middle School, school board member Jeff Martin couldn't see the district spending an estimated $250,000 to fix the septic issues if a long-range plan they were considering includes eliminating the campus down the road.
    About $90,000 has already been spent maintaining the septic issues. Two of the long-range plan options eliminated the feeder schools, and built a new facility for elementary and middle school students in the existing Murphy High School district.
    As a result, the board unanimously decided to charge Superintendent Jeana Conley and chief financial officer Stephanie Hass with doing a feasibility study to determine if the school should close instead of making repairs to the septic system. Conley said after the meeting that the report may not be complete until after pre-kindergarten and kindergarten registration is complete in March.
    Martins Creek School, which was built 21 years ago, has 196 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Grade sizes range from 11-30 students, with the three largest classes in the middle school grades. There are 15 students in its pre-kindergarten, which includes overflow from Murphy Elementary School.
    Plans for the new school building showed a school with three wings each connected by an enclosed glass corridor. The project, called Cherokee County Schools of Innovation, houses a different school in each wing. Both The Oaks Academy alternative school and the Early College must be maintained as separate schools with their own principal, as required by the state.
    The design included a cafeteria in the alternative school wing, an arena space for presentations in the CTE wing, and a gym in the early college wing. Board members had a choice of choosing an auxiliary gym or a larger spectator gym, which costs an additional $3.1 million over the estimated $19 million price tag.
    While considering the spectator gym and location of the cafeteria, board members considered doing what is best for the long-term use of the property. The plans showed where a potential two-story high school could go on the property, as well as a potential future entrance on U.S. 64, but no plans were created for the high school building.
    Martin asked if the positioning of schools in each wing could be reworked, but board Chairman Jeff Tatham said the CTE wing placed between the alternative school and Early College wings allowed all schools to easily access those classrooms.
    "To me, the way the building is arranged makes sense," Tatham said.
    West was in favor of the larger gym, and even wanted to add two more locker rooms to the design.
    Mike Cox, who presented the design for PFA Architects Architectural Design Studio, explained their philosophy in the design was to do what is best for the school. He said if they wanted to do what's best for the potential future school, spaces they'd like to be shared should be closer to the northern section of the property where that high school would be located.
    Although approval was needed so the project could move on to the next step, the board decided they needed more time to look over the designs.
    After the design presentation, Conley shared with the board five options with estimated costs for the long-range facilities plan. Each option, with costs, were from a facilities study completed about two years ago. Board members discussed with Conley how state and grant funding favors more efficient school models than the 13 schools in Cherokee County.
    "I love the community school model, but it is more expensive," Conley said, adding she would never agree to a “megaschool” for elementary school students.
    Martin, West and Tatham expressed interest in favoring Option 5, which would build a new central high school. The estimated cost was $55 million, which includes $20 million in funds already secured for the Early College/alternative school building. Option 5 did not address elementary and middle schools, but Conley was directed to figure out the maintenance of a kindergarten through eighth grade school in every existing high school district.
     Tatham argued that surrounding counties all have one high school, with Buncombe the closest county with more than one high school. He said Option 5 was was the most doable.
    “We have the opportunity to do something for future generations,” Tatham said. “This will be a huge change, so we’ve got to get it right.”
    Other options included renovating all the schools at an estimated $79 million, performing phased priority renovations at an estimated $27 million, building two new kindergarten through grade 12 schools for an estimated $156 million and building three new kindergarten through grade 12 schools for an estimated $179 million.
    Board member Joe Wood was interested in the options’ affect on the students, families, employees and taxpayers. He thought there could be more ideas.
    “There’s no doubt we’ve got to do something,” Wood said. “We’ve got to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
    Board member Keesha Curtis wanted to work for the kids’ best interest.
    “Some people are terrified of change,” Curtis said. “I think we can figure something out.”
    West said he’d like to see Andrews there forever, but their job is to do what’s best, even if it means consolidation.
    “We’ve had people’s houses burned down over that single word,” West said.
    The timeline of any of the long-range plans depends on several factors, including price and support from the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. As an example, Conley said Macon County Schools has taken 20 years to complete their long-range plan.
    The next regular meeting of the Cherokee County Board of Education is 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at Murphy Middle School.