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Camden weighs expanding school vs. new building

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One option to address Camden County High School's growing student enrollment is to add a second level to the current school, shown here Tuesday. Another option is to build a new school at another site.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

CAMDEN — Camden school and county officials will meet soon to decide details of a new high school — including whether to build an entirely new facility or expand the current campus.

While the main thrust of high school facility planning continues to be building a new high school at a new site on N.C. Highway 343 north of Grandy Primary and Camden Intermediate School, county and school officials are now also considering renovating and expanding the current high school. The expansion most likely would include adding a second story, since the campus lacks the space to expand laterally.

The Camden Board of Education and Camden Board of Commissioners broached the subject of high school construction during a joint meeting Monday, but acknowledged they need more information before making any definite plans. They plan to continue their discussions at a meeting set for Jan. 24.

School officials are hoping to get a plan in place in time to submit an application in August for the next round of the state’s Need-Based Facility grants The maximum grant available is $15 million.

School board member Jason Banks pressed that point in Monday’s meeting, saying he didn’t want the Camden schools to miss out on the opportunity to compete during the next round of state NBF grants.

School officials hope to get direction from commissioners at the January meeting on which option — expansion or new construction — they should pursue for Camden County High School.

Superintendent Joe Ferrell said after Monday’s meeting that he doesn’t know exactly what the expansion-renovation option would cost but noted it’d be less than the cost of building a new school.

“It would still be millions of dollars, but it wouldn’t be as many millions of dollars as building a new high school,” he said.

School board member Kevin Heath said Camden will need a new high school eventually. However, expanding the current high school could satisfy its space needs for 10-15 years or even — depending on the pace of growth — as much as 25 years.

“I’m for looking at all options,” Heath said.

Commissioners Clayton Riggs and Tom White both said commissioners need more information before deciding how to proceed. White said that would be the focus of the meeting in January as well as other meetings.

“It’s not going to be a one-time meeting,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a number of meetings.”

Board of Education Chairman Christian Overton reiterated that there is some urgency because of the August deadline for the next round of Needs-Based Facility grants.

Riggs said some of the pressure on space might have been eased had the boards moved forward a couple of years ago with the idea by the school district’s Larry Lawrence to put a brick-veneer metal building on the high school site. In hindsight, building the $1.2 million structure then might have helped, he said.

Heath replied that the metal building is still an option.

School and county officials agreed the metal building option might still be the way to go if officials can agree on a plan to build a new high school and relocate the current middle school to the current high school site.

Commissioner Randy Kraniak said commissioners need projected student numbers at different grade levels because that would influence which school is built first. Officials’ discussions have always focused on building a new high school but it could be another new school is needed even more based on projected student enrollment figures in the future, he said.

School board member Chris Purcell, who was sworn in for his first term on Monday, said it’s unknown right now what those future enrollment numbers will be. What is known now, Purcell said, is that the high school is the one school that currently is over capacity.

County commissioners said construction of a new high school would require a bond referendum, and added if that’s the direction the boards decide to go they should probably look at scheduling one in 2020.

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