New schools, athletics, stronger security and higher taxes in CMS’ $2.9B ask

New schools, athletics, stronger security and higher taxes in CMS’ $2.9B ask

A new medical and technology high school is proposed for Second Ward in Uptown on the old Metro site. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools says it must spend nearly $3 billion on new school and renovation projects over the next five years to handle growth. But first, voters will need to OK a bond package, which will lead to higher property taxes.

Why it matters: With more classroom space, CMS says it can move students out of trailers, relieve overcrowded schools and offer more seats in popular magnet programs.

  • More than 105 schools were at or over capacity at the end of last school year, according to CMS chief operations officer Brian Schultz.
  • Plus, aging schools are deteriorating and would require costly repairs. One campus due for replacement, Berryhill School, isn’t even connected to city sewer and water. In other schools, students are learning in classrooms without windows.

We know that the built environment actually impacts student outcomes, and if we know that then we need to improve those educational environments,” CMS construction consultant Dennis LaCaria told commissioners and school board members during a joint meeting Saturday.

Yes, but: Better educational facilities come at a price. Approving the full $2.9-billion bond package would mean a 4-cent property tax increase by 2029. That’s not taking into account the costs of keeping the lights on in the new buildings.

By the numbers: The owner of an average home valued at $384,000 would see their yearly tax bill go up by $38 in 2025 and continue rising to $153 by 2029 if the county moves forward with all 30 CMS projects, according to Mecklenburg County.

The intrigue: As proposed, the school bond package would shatter a record as the largest approved in North Carolina.

  • Inflation has hit the construction industry hard. A high school that cost CMS $52 million to build in 2010 now would be $130 million, according to CMS’ presentation.
  • These days, school systems are also pushing to make schools safer, from installing hidden cameras to strategically planting trees to securing vestibules at the entrance.

Of the 30 proposed, here are some projects that stand out.

1. Three new middle schools with 54 classrooms each

For a long time, CMS has tracked that students leave the district in fifth and sixth grade, only to return in ninth grade for high school. But now the school system is seeing more students stay through middle school, increasing the need for space.

  • One school in south Charlotte would relieve Community House, Jay M. Robinson and Rea Farms STEAM Academy. ($92M)
  • Another in Huntersville would relieve Bailey, Davidson K-8 School and J.M. Alexander. ($94.6M)
    • Davidson would return to a K-5 elementary school.
  • The third would go near the state line on property near Highway 160. It would relieve overcrowding at Southwest and Kennedy middle schools. ($99.3M)

2. Delicate renovations to the historic Garinger High ($56.1M)

CMS plans to improve the Garinger campus, a historic landmark.

  • Those plans include adding a new gym, kitchen and cafeteria building, as well as specialty classrooms. The existing gym would turn into an auxiliary gym, and the current cafeteria would be converted into classrooms. CMS would also improve the school’s athletics facilities.

    3. New Second Ward Medical and Technology High in Uptown ($186.3M)

    Proposed for the old Metro School site, this new school could ultimately teach 2,000 students. CMS would build the program help of partners like Central Piedmont Community College and health care providers like Atrium.

    • Hawthorne Academy’s health sciences program would move and expand at the new campus.
    • CMS would then demolish Hawthorne, freeing up for a new Villa Heights Elementary.

    4. Create a three-campus School of the Arts ($95.9M)

    CMS would adjust the grade levels on each arts campus so students could move through the magnet schools from kindergarten through graduation.

    • University Park Creative Arts School would be replaced at its current address with a 39-classroom elementary building.
    • First Ward Creative Arts Academy would be repurposed as the middle school.
    • Northwest School of the Arts would serve grades 9-12 as a high school.

    5. West Regional Athletic Complex next to Allenbrook Elementary ($113.6M)

    CMS wants to create a space where it can host large crowds for playoff and championship games.

    • Student athletes could also play and compete at the western complex while athletic facilities at several high schools are under construction.
    • The complex would also fill a need for more pools across CMS.

    6. Renovations to high schools

    Several high schools have been built like college campuses over the years, with separate buildings. CMS is undertaking renovations to connect those buildings into single schools. It’s safer to have limited entrances and exits.

    CMS also want to bring athletics on the campuses up to par with newer high schools. That could mean fresh synthetic turf, field houses, restrooms, ticket booths and bleachers, among other upgrades.

    • North Mecklenburg High ($266.2M)
    • Harding University High ($207.6M)
    • East Mecklenburg High ($206.1M)
    • South Mecklenburg High ($128.3M)

    7. More than a dozen school replacement buildings

    Most schools would be replaced at their current address. Construction would happen next to the existing building.

    • Albemarle Road Middle ($100.4M)
    • Allenbrook Elementary ($78.7M)
      • It would move across Freedom Drive, and the current site would be turned into a park.
    • Berryhill School ($110.5M)
      • CMS would trade the existing school property with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, so the county could then use the old school site for a lakefront park.
    • Beverly Woods Elementary ($73M)
    • Cochrane Collegiate Academy ($105.7M)
    • Cornelius Elementary ($78.2M)
    • Coulwood STEM Academy ($94.7M)
    • Huntersville Elementary ($68M)
    • Matthews Elementary ($82.5M)
      • The location is to-be-determined.
    • South Charlotte Middle ($105.6M)
    • Steele Creek Elementary ($80.2M)
    • Villa Heights Elementary ($85.2M)
      • It would be rebuilt on the Hawthorne Academy property.
    • Wilson STEM Academy ($94.7M)

    Check out the entire request

    Between the lines: CMS relies on Mecklenburg County to fund construction since the school board cannot levy taxes or generate funds itself.

    • The lottery contributed less than $12 million for construction projects in 2021. That equates to roughly one-fourth of what it takes for CMS to build a new elementary school.

    What’s next: The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners is considering CMS’ request. It could force CMS to cut the list to a lesser bond package, although CMS has said all these projects are equal priorities. Whatever amount they move forward with would then need approval from voters during the election this fall.

    • Some projects listed in the package would be ready by the start of the 2025 school year. CMS is working on a spending plan right now.
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