In one of the shortest meetings on record, only one person spoke Thursday night at a public hearing to discuss the possible closure of three schools in the Nash-Rocky Mount school district.
The meeting, which lasted roughly seven minutes, was held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the cafeteria of Northern Nash High School. Roughly two dozen people were present in addition to members of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education, but most of them were Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools staff members or members of the media. County commissioners Robbie Davis and Lou Richardson also were present.
Wyatt McGhee was the only person who signed up to speak at the public hearing. He presented four reasons why he felt that Cedar Grove Elementary, Swift Creek Elementary and Red Oak Elementary schools should not be closed and consolidated into a new school that is under consideration for construction in the Red Oak area.
“Studies show that smaller schools are better for students,” McGhee said.
McGhee also said there were practical aspects to consider.
“Are there enrollment trends that call for the need for more space? Also, I think this would increase travel times for students and parents bringing children to school,” McGhee said.
McGhee said he also is concerned about what would happen to the old schools once they are closed.
“We have invested a lot of money in these schools over the years and we don’t want to throw away that investment,” McGhee said. “There needs to be a plan for the reuse of the schools. I want to know more about why this is necessary.”
The public hearing was held as a formality as required by law, school board chairman Franklin Lamm said.
For nearly two years, this issue has been under discussion at several meetings. Three public forums — one for each school — previously were held by the school district.
“We have already had three public meetings. The people who wanted to speak, spoke then,” Lamm said.
However, interim Superintendent Del Burns pointed out that state law also requires that a school closing study be conducted for each school and that these be followed by a public hearing.
In a recent series of articles published this week, the Telegram summarized the results of each of these studies. The studies, which were prepared by school district officials, each recommended closure and consolidation.
According to estimates prepared by the maintenance department of the school district, the cost to upgrade and renovate the three aging schools to acceptable levels would require a total of roughly $23,312,865 in capital costs. Currently, Nash County commissioners have set aside $20 million from a combination of state grant money and county funds to build a new state-of-the-art elementary school designed to accommodate students from all three schools.
The school closing studies also indicated that transportation times should decrease after the consolidation, if the number of school buses remains constant. Access to specialized teachers also should increase if the consolidation occurs, the school studies suggest.
The Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education has not yet officially voted to close the schools or begin construction on the new school, though it already is in the planning phase. A specific location for the school also has not yet been decided.