RALEIGH – Wake County schools are getting ready to open the most expensive high school the district has ever built.
Students will begin classes Monday at Rolesville High School, which cost $75 million. The school is four stories and is the first one in Wake County designed to hold over 2,200 students.
Backers of the school said it is state-of-the-art and is built so the school is separated into 16 pods. Each pod has five classrooms, where students will spend some of their day together. The school split the cafeteria into four units, each on one of the floors. The cafeteria isn’t just for lunch. It can also be used as common areas for students. Classrooms don’t open into hallways, but into open space where students can also congregate.
“When I walk into this building every day I am thinking I feel blessed knowing that our kids are coming into a place they’re comfortable with,” principal Ericka Lucas told The News & Observer of Raleigh.
But critics said the price tag is too high and wonder if high school students can get the best education in a school with more than 2,000 students. Voters will get a say in October, when Wake County schools ask them to approve $800 million in bonds to build more schools for the district. Wake County school will likely add more than 3,000 students this school year and has had enrollment increase by 21,000 students since the last bond referendum was approved in 2006.
“Just because you put a big price tag on something doesn’t mean we’re getting the biggest bang for the buck,” said Donna Williams, chairwoman of the Wake County Republican Party, which announced last week that it would oppose the bond referendum.
Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake board of commissioners, said questions need to be asked about whether the new four-story schools are too expensive. Gaston County is building a high school for 1,500 students that is budgeted to cost under $39 million. The price does not include some of the features of Rolesville High.
Wake County schools have learned some lessons from the new high school. The district plans to use the design in the future with some tweaks to save money, such as installing fewer windows and using less steel and more masonry, said Joe Desormeaux, the school system’s assistant superintendent for facilities.
Desormeaux said critics that compare the cost of building a school in Wake County to other districts miss an important point. With more than 150,000 students, the district is one of the largest in the state and also remains one of the fastest-growing.
“People don’t realize there are bigger schools here,” Desormeaux said. “Even the elementary schools serve more students than the other districts. It’s not gold-plated stuff we’re building.”