STEM not included in plans

Published 9:53 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WINDSOR – Bertie County leaders discussed the progress of a new high school Monday.

The Bertie County Commissioners met with leaders of the county’s school district and Hite Associates representatives as they discussed the current design of the new Bertie High School and its student capacity.

Commissioners learned the school will likely house only Bertie High School – though all four grades (9-12), but will not be home to Bertie STEM High School or Bertie Early College High School.

Interim Bertie County Manager Morris Rascoe welcomed Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins and Board of Education Vice Chair Emma Johnson and board member Alton Parker to the joint meeting.

“I’d like to thank you for coming to meet with us,” Rascoe said. “We want to make sure we are all working together on this project.”

After preliminary discussions of the schematics and overseeing of the construction process, Commission Vice Chairman J. Wallace Perry asked if Bertie STEM would be housed at the new facility.

Dr. Harris-Rollins said the current capacity of the new school would house students from both Bertie High and Bertie Prep and that discussions were on-going about specific programs and the other two high schools.

Parker said his preference would be to see STEM housed at the new school, but he felt the Bertie Early College High School was better off on what is known as the Southwestern property.

Dr. Harris-Rollins said the district’s leadership was discussing several options, but that the design of the current construction would not allow Bertie STEM to be housed on the new site.

Commissioner Norman M. Cherry Sr., who served as Interim STEM Principal earlier this academic year, said he felt the current home of the school – in the 900 building on the BHS campus – was a good place for the institution.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said he was concerned about the school not being able to house all of the students and questioned if the board had looked at the option of doing away with the proposed 500-seat auditorium to build classrooms.

“If we looked at that option it still would not give us adequate space for Bertie STEM High School,” Dr. Harris-Rollins said.

Harrell also asked if there was a need to have public input on the schematics of the school. Parker said he would like for the public to have that opportunity.

“I would like for that to happen, understanding that every suggestion couldn’t be incorporated for the $18 million that can be spent right now,” Parker said. “Still, it is $18 million of taxpayer money so I think they should have that opportunity.”

Dr. Harris-Rollins said public education was essential. She said it was necessary to be transparent in dealings.

Commission Chairman L.C. Hoggard III said he knew it would be nice to add classrooms to the school, but also realized the amount of money budgeted was all the board had to spend.

“Maybe in two to five years we can take a look at this as good stewards of taxpayer funds and we can add on to the new school,” he said.

Harrell said he was still concerned about space.

“I’m not in the school business or the school design business,” he said. “I have to take the board of education’s word on that.”

Parker said he had issues with STEM not being included on the high school site and that while he thought other members of the board would disagree, he thought they should look at removing the auditorium.

Cherry and Perry each said they were strong supporters of the auditorium because of the advantages it would bring.

“Let me just ask this question,” Parker said. “Are we building the auditorium for the students or the general population?”

Several commission members answered simultaneously, “Both.”

Dr. Harris-Rollins said the elimination of the auditorium to build the 12 classroom spaces would not be enough to house Bertie STEM. She said it would take at least 14 classrooms.

Following more discussion, Hite Associates architect Jimmy Hite said his estimate was that it would cost $2.5 million to build 14 additional classrooms.

Hoggard said the $18 million was not optimal, but it was enough to move forward to build a state-of-the-art facility.

“In the future, maybe we can expand, but right now we can build a quality school for ninth through twelfth graders,” he said. “If I have anything to do with it, I won’t let it stop.”

“If we move forward you’ll make the best use of what we build,” Perry asked the school board.

Dr. Harris-Rollins said the district was planning to do just that.