CREEDMOOR — Granville County Commissioners signaled this week that they’re unlikely to support putting money toward rebuilding G.C. Hawley Middle School, and instead would prefer to see the county school board engage in a further round of school consolidations.
More than one commissioner suggested that would mean combining the two high schools that serve the southern end of Granville County — Granville Central and South Granville High — and turning one of the campuses into a replacement middle school for Hawley.
Their comments came after the architect Granville County Public Schools leaders hired to come up with renovation options for Hawley, Katherine Peele, told commissioners and the school board that two of the buildings on the Hawley campus are so old and run down they should be replaced.
She estimated that putting up a 64,000-square-feet replacement to house the sixth and seventh grades, and doing some maintenance to the eighth-grade building, would cost up to $23 million.
A couple of add-on possibilities, namely a better roof and a new auditorium, would bump that up to about $30 million, she said during Monday’s joint meeting of the two boards.
Those numbers inspired no obvious support from county commissioners for the project, and comments from a couple of them that it would amount to throwing money down a hole when there are renovation needs on other campuses in the county school system.
“I’ve never been asked to be Tonya Harding before, to kneecap a board,” said Commissioner Tim Karan, alluding to the figure skater who in the early 1990s conspired to have a competitor injured before a meet. “But I can’t see all that effort not to let you know that I’m not for a bond referendum to put money into Hawley.”
The consolidation suggestions came after school officials noted that they’ve closed schools in the northern part of Granville County, namely the former Joe Toler-Oak Hill Elementary School and the former Mary Potter Middle School, and that they’re trying to figure out a strategy for the schools in the southern part of Granville.
Stan Winborne, assistant superintendent, said the fundamental problem remains that the school system over a decade has lost 20% of its students, and governmental funding that accompanies them, to charter schools.
That upended planning by the system and the county that saw them build and open Granville Central High in 2007 and Tar River Elementary School in 2011, said Winborne, who oversees operations and human resources for Superintendent Alisa McLean.
Winborne stressed that the missing students aren’t just attending local charter schools.
“We now send children to 37 different charter schools,” he said. “We send children literally across the state. Our tax dollars from the county follow these children. And some of those are quite far away.”
He added that officials are in the midst of trying to come up with a strategic plan to address, among other things, a prospective consolidation of the district’s three elementary schools in the Butner-Creedmoor area.
In pondering their options for Hawley, officials thought about converting Creedmoor Elementary or Mount Energy Elementary into a middle school, but ultimately put that idea aside because it’s difficult to make a campus designed as an elementary school work for a middle-school program.
Hawley presents a dilemma because the “campus is in a pretty bad state,” with buildings that in some cases date from the early 1960s, Winborne said.
Steele added the problems in the older building include drainage issues, uninsulated windows, undersized corridors, deteriorating ceilings, moisture infiltration, exposed wiring, asbestos tile underneath carters and an HVAC system that “does not provide proper humidification.”
Commissioners toured the Hawley campus recently and agree that it isn’t up to par, to the point that conditions there are prompting some of the flight to charter schools.
“I truly was appalled, not only thinking about the children in that environment, but the teachers and staff members who had to be in that environment,” Commissioner David Smith said. “I thought Granville County can do better than this for our students.”
But “we have to look at numbers and we have to be realistic,” he added. “It may be time for us all to make some hard choices and time to do some consolidation.”
Contact Ray Gronberg at email@example.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.