GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Just two weeks have passed since voters in Guilford County approved taking out $1.7 billion in bonds to replace, rebuild and repair dozens of crumbling schools, and about $228 million is ready to be spent.
The Guilford County Board of Education on Tuesday night approved a list of nearly three dozen projects to begin design and project management across a broad spectrum of improvements, including the building of new schools.
This also includes $48 million for deferred maintenance, technology updates, safety improvements and facilities improvements that touch on all 126 schools and communications systems and equipment for school buses.
The list approved Tuesday, which begins with Sumner Elementary and then Swann Center 6-12 and ends with the 6-12 Preparatory Academy in High Point, includes $13.5 million for Page High School and $12 million for the planned Northwest Area Aviation High School as the largest targeted investments.
The bond passed overwhelmingly by voters on May 17 addresses a list of nearly 125 projects drawn up three years ago by Cooperative Strategies, a school facility planning firm that created the master list and set priorities that started with rebuilding destroyed elementary schools.
The first-step replacement of Hampton/Peeler Elementary School and Erwin Montessori was required after tornadoes destroyed those buildings in April 2018. The list ends with Northern Area Elementary School, which would require $26.8 million to replace.
Those tornado-driven projects are underway, as are about a dozen others in Phase I, including the controversial move of Kiser Middle School onto property now used for sports fields at Grimsley High School, already funded by a $300 million bond passed in 2020.
The next step is approval by the Guilford County Board of Supervisors, which earlier this year placed the bonds on the ballot. Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and again on June 16. There is no agenda item about this bond for this week’s meeting.
“We have not changed priorities,” Superintendent Sharon Contreras said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We may make some changes just based on swing space. The board is deeply committed to the schools in most need and working on those schools first.
“If a school can be rebuilt right on property, we can move on with that school, because students can remain in school. Swing space could affect others.”
Said Guilford County Schools Chief Operations Office Michelle Henry: “There are 34 schools, new builds, replacements and full renovations [on this list].”
The first two are named
But the first two new schools to open are already under construction. The Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School, which will open in January and honor a civil rights activist who pushed enrollment for Latino students in California, will be the first school in North Carolina named in honor of a Latino, Contreras said.
“We have close to 20% of our students who identify as Hispanic,” Mendez Principal Christian Walker said. “We try to match students with staff who identify like them. We can also increase representation with the way we name our schools.”
That will be followed in Fall 2025 by the Katherine G. Johnson School for Science and Mathematics, a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in southwestern Guilford County that is named for a former NASA mathematician immortalized in the award-winning film “Hidden Figures.” Johnson, a Black woman, was largely anonymous as she helped launch John Glenn into orbit during the early days of the space program.
The board approved both those names on Tuesday night. Guilford County has had schools for 147 years, Contreras said, “We did not have a school named for a woman of color since the beginning of schooling. This was a historic night to name these schools for two women who have meant so much for our country.
“As a descendant of African Americans enslaved in South Carolina and as a descendant of Venezuelans, this was a moving night for me.”
Safety issues addressed
The $48 million would be combined with federal money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to expand security measures at all schools, not just those being rebuilt or renovated. Officials said many schools simply didn’t have the capabilities needed to ensure safety.
“We are including interoperable systems with police and fire departments to communicate more quickly,” Contreras said. “We don’t have those now.
“We will make sure all classrooms are able to be locked and have systems to communicate with the office. Now we don’t have that. We have two schools where teachers have to use personal phones to call the office … for assistance. We are using ESSER funds to consider body scanners on buildings.”
Said Reed: “Security cameras is one of the key focus areas. Interior and exterior. Good visibility to use as a deterrent and to understand what is going on campus. Especially on the exterior.”
Said Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry: “We are adding vestibules, as needed, too.”
Contreras said the communications network would include the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, the Greensboro Police Department and the High Point Police Department and fire departments.
“When there is fire or emergency, we can immediately contact – many times silently – to let them know there is an emergency occurring in the building. Right now we can’t do that.”
Said Reed: “We are launching project now so we have in all schools where all agencies, where they can dial in or dial out. Many schools in cinder block and built decades ago. Don’t have all technology needed. With improvements in the technology space … can be alerted both ways in event of an emergency.”
A long process
The bond plan has been challenged along partisan lines, with Republican members of both boards having voted against this bond and an accompanying sales-tax increase that voters ultimately rejected. But this quick move addresses a concern from some that GCS wasn’t prepared to handle the immediacy the bond is designed to address.
Contreras said this phase represented about 15% of the total costs but that even those numbers were moving targets, fluid because the project was developed with 2019 costs and was affected also by supply chain issues.
“All of this is going to take years,” Contreras said. “The timeline for the project was 10 years. The fastest was 7 to 10 years.
“People asked, why is it taking so long with the $300 million [bond from 2020]? In our minds, we are moving very quickly. It’s only little more than a year since voters approved $300 million. Had to explain in the public sector about the process for bidding and licensing.
“This is not like anything we do in our homes. We are protecting the taxpayers’ investment.”
The projects approved
|Project name||Cost of Project Management and Design|
|Swann Center 6-12||$5,000,000|
|Northwest Middle School Replacement||$7,500,000|
|Millis Road Elementary||$4,000,000|
|Kirkman Park Elementary||$4,500,000|
|Irving Park Elementary||$4,500,000|
|Deferred maintenance, technology, safe schools, educational adequacy & athletics||$48,000,000|
|Doris Henderson Newcomers||$1,500,000|
|Northwest Area Aviation High School||$12,000,000|
|General Greene Elementary||$1,500,000|
|Transportation/Maintenance Hub West||$2,500,000|
|Johnson Street K-8||$1,500,000|
|Nathanael Greene Elementary||$1,000,000|
|6-12 Preparatory Academy in High Point||$6,000,000|