Study seeks new school site

By: T.C. Hunter - Managing editor
Peggy Wilkins Chavis
Peggy Wilkins Chavis

LUMBERTON — Where the former students of West Lumberton Elementary School will attend school next year is still undecided more than halfway through the current academic year.

In the meantime, a demographic study is being conducted on where best to build a new school. That information could be presented to the school board during its March meeting.

The students, a total of 82 as of December, have been housed at Lumberton Junior High School since West Lumberton was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew and the floodwaters the storm generated in October 2016.

There has been talk of sending the students to W.H. Knuckles Elementary, said Peggy Wilkins Chavis, school board chairperson. She and interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten recently discussed that possibility.

“I said no,” Chavis said.

Chavis said she proposed allowing the students’ parents to request that their children be sent to a school of their choice. The requests would be considered on a first-come, first-served basis by the school district’s administration.

Students whose parents did not file a transfer request could then be sent to Knuckles, she said.

“I think that’s the fair way to handle it,” Chavis said.

Chad Cronin, project manager for sfl+a Architects, and Graham Boyd, an architect for the firm, spoke Tuesday with school board members about the collection of demographic information needed to create a plan for construction. The discussion took place during a joint meeting of the school board’s Curriculum and Construction committees.

The information being sought pertains to student populations, schools attended and where they are located, and the flow of students from school to school as they progress through the system, busing, and more, Cronin said Friday. The information is to be used by a company called Numerix to create a “map” that will show school leaders where construction needs are now and in the future, he said.

“We’re hoping to have the base data available at the next school board meeting,” Cronin said.

The hope is to have in April enough data to show county education leaders what their present and future construction needs are, he said.

“This is for them to decide, based on the information presented to them, what they want to do,” Cronin said.

“We are working with a company provided by sfl+a to collect the data,” Wooten wrote in an emailed reply to questions asked. “We met this week with Chad Cronin (SFL+A) and Michael Miller (Numerix). We will work on this for the next two months and provide updates as needed to the board.”

She and other school district personnel are collecting three to five years of student data, including 2017-18, according to Wooten. Among the student data being gathered are student identification, addresses, grade levels, schools attended and race/ethnicity.

“We will provide the student transfer information to Numerix,” Wooten wrote.

Numerix also will be given geographic information system data from the county, according to Wooten. The school district may ask Robeson County’s planning personnel for population dynamics information.

“We are all signing confidentiality statements this week,” Wooten wrote.

The confidentiality statements are required because some of the requested data is protected student information, according to Wooten. County school district policy states the information is not to be shared with the public.

Any plan devised by Numerix and sfl+a is not specific to West Lumberton Elementary, according to Mike Smith, the longest serving member of the school board.

“It’s looking at the big picture,” Smith said.

Many district leaders, including Smith, say a big obstacle to building new schools is finding sites large enough for a school that are not in what the Federal Emergency Management Agency has deemed a flood zone. FEMA money can’t be used to build in a flood zone.

The parcel of land chosen for a K-8 school must be at least 30 acres in size, sfl+a’s Cronin and Boyd told school board members on Tuesday. The board members were presented tentative plans for a school that would house students in grades kindergarten through eighth. The board members were told the school’s site must be 30 acres or more to accommodate the building and accompanying athletic fields. The size would vary depending on the number of athletic fields needed.

Cronin and Boyd explained that the presented plan could be pared down for use as a K-5 school, which would need at least 25 acres on which to be built.

Cronin recommended not going with the K-5 option.

“The K-8 plan is more cost-effective,” he said.

Peggy Wilkins Chavis Wilkins Chavis

Peggy Wilkins Chavis Wilkins Chavis

T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]