Staff members in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools continue their search for a potential site for the new Ashley Academy for Cultural & Global Studies as construction plans for two other schools in the district move to the next step.
The Philo-Hill project is a renovation and addition with an $18.6 million budget, and the Easton project is a classroom and kitchen addition with a budget of about $9.8 million. Both are part of the $350 bond request approved by Forsyth County voters in 2016. The bonds included money for Ashley — but only for design work.
Darrell Walker, the school system’s assistant superintendent of operations, said in June that currently there’s no money to pay for the Ashley building or land and that WS/FCS would have to identify funding sources.
He also said that there are multiple owners of the 10 to 11 acres that the school system is considering as a potential site for the new Ashley building.
On Sept. 13, Colon Moore, director of construction planning and operations for WS/FCS, said, “Right now, we’re still in the process of trying to secure land. We are having discussions with our board about land options and with other landowners.”
The City of Winston-Salem owns at least 18 lots that have been considered by the school system.
When asked for an update on what’s happening with the city land, Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity said the city has received an offer from the school system to buy land owned by the city adjacent to Fairview Park.
Garrity said the school system’s request may come to a future meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council’s Finance Committee.
“Mayor Pro Tempore (Vivian) Burke, Council Member of the Ward, is reviewing the request,” Garrity said. “She has asked for more information on development, housing and crime in the neighborhood. She also is eager to review the neighborhood feedback that the city and the Housing Authority will be receiving this month as part of a neighborhood engagement process related to the Choice Neighborhoods grant proposal.”
The city is applying for the Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring about transformation of the Cleveland Avenue corridor. The grant would be for $30 million. The corridor area stretches along Cleveland and Highland avenues from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to 21st Street.
Ashley Academy has been in the spotlight for some time because of concerns over indoor air quality at the school. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board decided last year on a new HVAC system as a temporary solution at the existing school.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the board’s and district’s response to the environmental concerns at Ashley. That investigation followed a complaint filed on behalf of a citizens’ group called Action4Equity. The complaint asked that a new school be built as soon as possible to remedy the situation.
At the Sept. 16 meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council, several citizens urged the city to help move the Ashley school project forward by making land available.
“By campaigning, each of you said you were here to fight for us, and to help provide a better way of life for our children,” Morticia Parmon told the council during the public comment period. “I’m standing before you today, asking, pleading and even begging if you will please put the sale of the land for Ashley School” on the city’s agenda.
Eunice Campbell, a member of Action4Equity, told the council that “we need land for Ashley school, land that you influence.”
“Every year we wait, we lose students, proficiency, graduation rates,” she said. “Think about what you are asking parents to do when it comes to waiting. For a lot of parents, that’s not an option.”
Meanwhile, for Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, schematic plans have been developed for an addition, Moore said.
The school building will get a major renovation that will allow for an increase of 105 students.
Moore told Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education members Sept. 10 in a memo that the design and construction team for the project “has determined that it would be more cost effective to renovate the existing dining/gymnasium/auditorium area and demo the remaining area.”
A new three-story classroom addition will be built in that area.
Moore said that this option will be less disruptive for students and teachers.
The schematic drawings are expected to go before the school board’s Building and Grounds Committee and the full board of education in October. Construction, which is scheduled to begin in fall 2020, is expected to take between 18 and 20 months.
Also on Sept. 10, the board of education approved construction documents for the Easton Elementary project.
Moore said that the next step for the Easton project will be the bidding process for subcontractors, probably within the next two weeks.
In addition, the board approved on Sept. 10 a $1.7 million yearly capital funds outlay for 2019-2020 capital and maintenance projects: $900,000 to install and move modular classroom buildings at schools that need major expansion; $69,000 to move a mobile classroom to schools that need additional classrooms, typically two per summer; $216,000 for high school athletic funds; $250,000 to buy two activity buses; and $300,000 for repairs to existing buildings, as well as mobiles and modular units.