Warren County Schools will hold a community meeting for the general public at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, to discuss a study to determine the best way to organize schools housing students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The meeting will be held in the theater at Warren County High School, 149 Campus Dr., Warrenton.

The study initially was presented during a joint meeting of the board of education and board of county commissioners late last month.

Need for the study

During last month’s meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ray Spain said that the study was conducted as the result of several years of discussion about school building needs. During budget discussions with county commissioners, questions arise about whether the school system is using its building space efficiently and whether the system is considering consolidating small schools, he added.

The study focused on local schools for elementary and/or middle school grades. Spain said that the work was conducted to give Warren County Schools a thorough review of how the schools are organized by grade level now with options for future organization. However, he emphasized that no recommendations have been formed.

He said that the study grew out of work related to the five-year facility needs plans that Warren County Schools and other North Carolina school systems are required to submit to the state Department of Public Instruction, which usually form the basis for statewide bonds.

Spain said that the work was influenced by Warren County Schools’ strategic plan for improvement. The study focused on the elementary and middle school grades because the school system’s move from one consolidated high school to three smaller schools seems to be working, and because students are more likely to leave the traditional public school setting in the middle school grades.

The study

After Spain reported that the local elementary school buildings have been in use for at least 50-60 years, David Clinton, principal of Szostak Design, Inc. of Chapel Hill, which conducted the study, said that 60 years is considered the lifespan of a building.

“A lot of the buildings have gone beyond the 60 years,” Clinton said. “The cost to renovate won’t be less than new construction, and you will still have an old building.”

According to the study, the most common problem at local elementary schools is that classrooms are at least 20 percent smaller than what is recommended for the age group. The report also stated that the Mariam Boyd Elementary School building housing pre-kindergarten and kindergarten “has served far beyond its useful life” and should be removed.

The study suggested four options for organizing elementary and middle school grades more efficiently:

Upgrade existing elementary schools and Northside K-8 School by constructing or renovating to create classrooms of appropriate size, and maintaining WCMS as it is. The estimated cost would be $19.4 million.

Consolidate the three elementary schools and Northside into two pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade schools and maintain WCMS as it is. The option houses students from the areas served by Vaughan and South Warren elementary schools at Vaughan, and students from areas served by Northside and Mariam Boyd at Northside. The estimated cost for renovation and construction at Vaughan and Northside would be $19.2 million.

Create two pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses, utilizing the existing WCMS campus and selecting a site for the other campus that would be equidistant from the areas it would serve. The study identified a possible location as the area where highways 43 and 58 meet in the Liberia community. The estimated cost for renovations and construction would be $35.6 million.

Create one pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade campus for the southern and eastern portions of the county (areas served by Vaughan and South Warren); construct or renovate to create classrooms of appropriate size for Mariam Boyd and Vaughan, which would serve as elementary schools; and maintain WCMS as it is. The estimated cost for renovations and construction would be $27.4 million.

Funding concerns

During the joint meeting, members of both boards expressed concerns about availability of funding for major renovations and construction. Spain said that a state bond would probably be the best way to obtain funding. Several school board members and county commissioners agreed with Spain that the two boards and community coalitions would need to join forces to make a bond referendum become reality.

Spain said that no timeline for potential construction has been set, and the study report did not come with a recommendation. He said that he wanted both boards to take time to review and digest the information before reaching a conclusion.

Spain announced that the public meeting would include descriptions of the four options presented in the study report, but there will probably be others to consider.

“This is not something that will happen overnight, but it is something to think about how we want to move forward in Warren County,” he said.