The potential for accelerating a construction project at Wiley Magnet School has drawn mixed reactions from the local school board as well as some in the community.
On the one hand, supporters believe the need for a new gym at Wiley is overdue, and any jumpstart on the project is a good one.
“If there was a change in the order and the Wiley gym project was able to be moved forward so that construction on our new facility was possible to start before 2020, we would be very excited and grateful,” said Lisa Bodenheimer, principal at Wiley. “We welcome improved locker rooms, air conditioning, upgraded floors/courts for basketball, volleyball and physical education, and the classrooms for new art and technology courses.”
But those who are not sold on the idea question the need to move a project up, at best, a few months. They also question whether are other motives in play, even questioning if there are conflicts of interest for a board member to push for this.
One concern in particular is if accelerating the project, and therefore the demolition of the old Wiley gym, is a way to move closer to the construction of a sports stadium for neighboring Reynolds High School, another hotly contested subject in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district.
On Jan. 22, during the regularly scheduled Building and Grounds Committee meeting, staff brought forward different timeline scenarios for the nearly $10 million Wiley gym project, which was approved in the 2016 bond.
When completed, the old gym will be demolished, a new gym will be attached to the main building and six new classrooms will be constructed, as well.
But the trouble with demolishing the gym is that the boiler room for the school is located there.
The current timeline would allow for demolition in early summer 2020, and at that time the new HVAC system could be placed in the current building and wrapped up by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
With the building unoccupied, that sort of endeavor can last two months. But if it were done during the school year — which could happen if an accelerated option was agreed upon — it could take six to eight months, said Colon Moore, director of construction planning and operations.
And with the current timeline, there’s no way they could have design work ready in time to both demolish the old building and have the new HVAC system in place by the start of the school year.
The Building and Grounds Committee voted 4-1 to move the matter out of committee and before the full board. Dana Jones was the only board member to vote against.
Staff has since put together four different options for the board to discuss at Tuesday’s full board meeting. It is not listed as an action item.
The first option is what is currently in the 2016 bond. There would be no additional costs associated with this one and the new space could be occupied as early as May 2022.
The second option, Option 2A, would speed up demolition by two months — June 2020 completion — and new construction would start three months early in July 2020.
There are no additional costs for this option, and the new space could be ready to use as early as March 2022. This would even cut the use of the Reynolds auxiliary gym down two months — 18 as compared to 20 months with the original plan.
It’s been known that Wiley students would use the neighboring auxiliary gym while they’re without one during the demolition and construction phases.
“Leslie Alexander, the principal of Reynolds High School, and I are committed to working collaboratively so that when the project does begin, we will develop a schedule for shared use of the RJR auxiliary gym, so that there is no lapse in our educational, athletic or school program,” Bodenheimer said.
The third option, 2B, does include additional costs of an estimated $325,000 to rent a temporary boiler.
Demolition under this option would be completed December 2019 and new construction would start the same month. Students would be able to occupy the new space as early as August 2021.
Even though this speeds up the construction timeline, the early demolition puts students in the auxiliary gym for 18 months — same as the previous option.
The final option accelerates demolition, but sticks with the original construction schedule, and has additional costs.
This is the most drawn out and expensive option.
Demolition would be done in December 2019, but construction would not start until July 2020 and students could not occupy the new space until August 2022. This puts students in the auxiliary gym for 28 months.
An additional $600,000 would be needed to install shoring and a weatherproof boiler room for the current boiler system, so that it can stay intact while the old gym is taken down, which will still need to be demolished at a later date.
It was during the Jan. 22 meeting that Jones questioned why a potential acceleration of the project was even being discussed.
Leah Crowley, who chairs that committee, said some of the reasons include the overdue need for a new Wiley gym and that there is a shovel ready project that needs the space where the current gym stands.
The project she referred to is the Reynolds stadium. Home Field Advantage, the organization pushing for and raising money for the stadium, entered an agreement with the school board in 2012 that the stadium would be paid for entirely through private money and that construction would not start until all of it was in the bank.
Originally, HFA would have had to raise money for the Wiley project, too, but that was added to the 2016 bond.
Currently, HFA has about $1 million, and needs an estimated $3 million more.
While the demolition of the old gym would remove a physical barrier for HFA’s ultimate goal of a stadium, there’s still a financial obstacle to overcome.
Stan Dean, spokesman for HFA, said they’re looking to pick up more momentum soon in their fundraising efforts, and have hired Frank L. Blum Construction Company as contractors for the project.
This is where potential conflicts of interest have been called into play for Crowley. She has worked with HFA in the past, campaigned in 2018 on the stadium during her run for school board and her husband, Pat Crowley, is the head football coach at Reynolds.
And while she has been accused of having a conflict of interest in the matter, it does not appear to be an issue legally.
Frayda Bluestein, a professor at the UNC School of Government, said because there is no financial gain for Crowley if the stadium is built and utilized, then there is no legal conflict of interest at play.
According to the district’s own school board policies, it would not legally be considered a conflict of interest since Crowley would not benefit from the construction or operation of the stadium financially. Crowley said this at the end of the Jan. 22 board meeting.
But for Lori Clark, the board member who called out the possible conflict of interest at the committee meeting, she maintains it is an ethical conflict of interest.
Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury feels differently about board members supporting what they advocated for during their campaigns.
“I want the kids to get what they need, and I want us to be unapologetic to the community about, ‘Yes, we’re advocating for schools to get what they need for our children,’” she said.
Members on the school board appear divided on the matter of accelerating the project. Some feel that it is necessary and should be done if the opportunity presents itself, while others want more details before voting on it.
Lida Calvert Hayes said if they are to go forward with any acceleration of the project, that it needs to be presented to the public. She said she is not in favor of additional taxpayer dollars going toward the acceleration, speaking specifically of the temporary boiler.
Jones said at this time she does not see a reason or has heard of one for moving this forward. She added if there is a compelling reason then maybe that would change her mind.
Elisabeth Motsinger, who has served on the school board for 12 years, said in her time that she had been a member she had never seen something advance out of committee while there were still unknown costs associated with it.
Motsinger added that she will honor the construction of the stadium once the private fundraising is completed.
“I certainly don’t see a legitimate reason for accelerating (the Wiley) project,” she said. “Everything that made it on to that bond made it on because it was truly needed and I’m just not seeing any evidence that this has risen in urgency.”
Andrea Bramer was blunt with her criticism of how this has played out: It is a waste of time.
Since the new board has been in place, two schools have taken precedent in discussions and actions: Wiley and Forest Park Elementary School for a professional development contract.
She added something of this nature should go through the finance committee as well.
“We need to move along,” she said. “It’s going to get done in June anyway, no matter what. So we are wasting time on foolish nonsense.”
At the Jan. 22 full school board meeting, some community members spoke out against public dollars going toward the fundraising efforts for the stadium.
Some school board members maintain a similar stance. Others feel a public-private partnership would be the best move forward.
Barbara Burke is one of those board members who said it is important for students to have a stadium on campus instead of traveling to Deaton-Thompson Stadium, which Reynolds shares with Parkland High School.
Deanna Kaplan and Woodbury shared similar opinions.
“Absolutely, public dollars should go toward whatever needs to happen at a public school,” Woodbury said.
Hayes, who is in favor of Reynolds getting a stadium, said her support for public dollars going toward the project would be determined by how the public feels about it and where the money would come from.
Jones said they would have to look at overall needs of the district and where existing dollars are before that could be done.
Clark said she does not support having the taxpayers pay for a second stadium for Reynolds — referring to the one Reynolds and Parkland share.
Motsinger said in the next bond, the stadium should go through the same process as other potential bond projects, if public dollars are to go toward it.
Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, a former school board member, sent a letter to Superintendent Beverly Emory on Jan. 23 saying that if a stadium at Reynolds is constructed, then a new on-campus stadium should be built for Parkland High School, as well.
Deaton-Thompson is nearly 6 miles from Reynolds High and less than two miles from Parkland.
The other concern was how an acceleration of this project could affect the Brunson Elementary School project on the bond. Moore said they still anticipate Brunson will remain on the same schedule in the event of any acceleration, and that negotiations for land are in the works.