North East Carolina Prep to break ground

By Jim Holt

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Despite rain delays, North East Carolina Prep officials said construction crews will move forward next week with breaking ground to build a two-story high school facility to accommodate the charter school’s growing student body.

The construction of the middle and high school complex will represent the second phase of the charter school’s renovations at the 52-acre former Mary Frances Center located off Howard Avenue Extension.

“The facility definitely will be ready for us to get in there by Aug. 1,” said Taro Knight, the school’s director of communication and outreach. “The structure will have a regulation-size gymnasium and more than 25 classrooms.”

Knight said the influx of students also necessitates the construction of a new road on campus to handle the increased traffic flow, for which crews already have begun cutting down trees to make way.

Crews also are cutting down trees to make room for the construction of baseball and soccer fields for intramural sports next year.

“It is exciting in two ways,” Knight said. “First, we are looking forward to expanding and growing. Second, it is exciting in a nervous type of way, because there is going to be construction going on while teachers are trying to have class. The good thing about it is that we are concerned whether we will have enough room to accommodate 860 students. With 860, we will be right at the cuff with classroom space.”

Open enrollment for the school will end March 31, and Knight said officials expect the school to reach its 860-student goal by then and have to go to a lottery for certain grades.

The school currently serves 403 students, but that number will more than double next year when the school adds the ninth grade.

North East Carolina Prep will continue to add another high school grade each consecutive year until the school is fully K-12.

When it comes to student and staff safety, Knight said Tarboro police officers make regular stops on campus since the property recently was voluntarily annexed into Tarboro’s town limits.

“Since we have been outside of Tarboro and in Edgecombe County for so long, we still have deputies coming in once a month,” Knight said. “The N.C. Highway Patrol also has a program where they come through and familiarize themselves with the students, staff and layout of our facilities. We also have more than 25 cameras operating throughout our campus.”

The school will be adding at least 30 more staff positions next year to handle the expansion, Knight said.

“We are excited about the fast growth, and we knew it was going to happen like this,” Knight said.

North East Carolina Prep officials have leased the new site from Highmark School Development, a Utah-based charter school developer. The school plans to eventually purchase the land from Highmark.

“This really isn’t a risk for us. It’s an investment in the community,” said Glenn Hileman, the company’s CEO. “We saw the vision and the passion that (the board of directors) had in the early conversations and when we first started hearing about what they had plans for in this community.”