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School Board Approves New 100-Classroom High School in Steele Creek

(February 26, 2020) At its February 25 meeting, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board approved a reduction in classrooms for three new high schools that were approved in the 2017 bond, including the Olympic relief high school on York Road across from McDowell Nature Preserve. Although the community has known of the change made by CMS staff for several months, the School Board had not previously discussed and approved the reduction.

The list of projects in the 2017 bond stated that the new Olympic relief high school, a replacement West Charlotte High School, and a new south Charlotte high school would each have 125-classrooms. Staff had based this number on the  target enrollment of 2,500 and average lass size of 20 students. Staff later determined that an average class size of 25 was more realistic. Using a 25 student average class size, only 100 classrooms would be needed for a school with 2,500 total students.

As the chart below shows, Olympic High School has 107 classrooms and a capacity of 2,675 students (with an average of 25 students per class). The 2019-2020 20th day enrollment was 2,519. If the relief high school were open today, Olympic would have 1,492 students, and the relief high school would have 1,456. Each school would have over 1,000 extra seats. The total of the two enrollment numbers exceeds the current Olympic enrollment because staff anticipate that students from Nations Ford Elementary School would attend one of the Steele Creek high schools. (They currently feed into Southwest Middle School and Harding University High School.)

Staff projects a 2024-2025 enrollment of 2,184 for Olympic High School and 1,704 for the relief high school. If these projections are accurate, and the relief high school has 100 classrooms, each school would have from 500 to 800 extra seats five years from now.

When costs were estimated for the schools included in the bond, staff predicted an 11% inflation rate, but the actual rate has been about 20%. CMS will not be able to pay for all of the projects in the $922 million bond approved in 2017 without obtaining additional financing and cutting costs. The 25 fewer classrooms will reduce the cost of the new relief high school. Plans still call for the a swimming pool at the relief high school.

Recently opened high schools, such as Hough and Rocky River, have 100 classrooms. E E Waddell, which will become a magnet school, has 71 classrooms.

Some School Board members were concerned that if plans had to be revised to include 125 classrooms in the new schools, there would be a delay in awarding construction contracts. But other members believed the original 125-classroom proposal should be honored. Ultimately, the School Board approved the reduction to 100 classrooms for each high school by a vote of 7 to 2.

Staff anticipates bringing construction awards to the School Board for approval at its April 28 meeting.

CMS will share more information on the changes in a series of town hall meetings over the next month.

The meetings will take place at Northwest School of the Arts on March 9, Providence High School on March 11, East Mecklenburg High School on March 16, and Mallard Creek High School on March 18. All four are scheduled for 6 p.m.

None of these meetings will be held in or convenient to Steele Creek, which is the location of one of the new high schools in question.

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