2/28/16 Pleasant Grove Elementary to close, says school board

Pleasant Grove Elementary to close, says school board
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 2/28/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

   Among the toughest arguments Alamance-Burlington Superintendent Bill Harrison has to make in redistricting are closing Pleasant Grove Elementary School and building a new elementary school in eastern Alamance County.

   “When we began this process back in July, we were really thinking about closing Pleasant Grove,” Harrison told the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education. “Enrollment appears to be declining, the building is in poor condition, but we had nowhere to send those children.”

   The board voted unanimously to support Harrison’s idea of building a new school and closing Pleasant Grove, last week, though there is a formal process the district has to go through before it can close a school. It also has yet to find a place or the money to build a new elementary school.

   Students would have had to go to South Mebane, E.M. Yoder or Haw River elementary schools, all of which are already overcrowded, Harrison said. With South Mebane growing faster than expected — 608 students in a school built for 575 — Harrison’s administration looked for a way to move them to E.M. Yoder, but that plan did not work out.

   Harrison said there is a difference between a school’s capacity and its “program capacity,” meaning the space a school needs to teach the way it wants to teach.

   “All of our new buildings are built with computer labs, all of our buildings are built with art rooms, all of our buildings are built with music rooms,” Harrison said. “Right now at South Mebane the art teacher is on a cart.”

   While E.M. Yoder has space for about 450 students, to keep Yoder’s art, music and computer rooms and three classrooms for autistic students, the student body has to be less than 376. There are 310 students there now.

   “If we were to shift those 120 children from South Mebane to Yoder, it would not completely solve the problem at South Mebane, but would create the same problem at Yoder,” Harrison said.

   Without a redistricting fix for South Mebane, Harrison said, building a new school seemed like the best solution, which made closing Pleasant Grove seem a better possibility.

   There are 1,829 students now in the four eastern Alamance County elementary schools, according to the district, 247 of them at Pleasant Grove.

   Those schools have a capacity of 2,059, but a program capacity of 1,936.

   Pleasant Grove, built in 1952, would need about $1.1 million in renovations, Harrison said, including an overburdened septic field, asbestos tile removal, HVAC replacement, new windows and electrical upgrades.

   With rapid growth around Mebane, Harrison said, the new school would probably need to be big enough to take about 700 students. Board member Tony Rose said the district needs to get across what kind of growth it was expecting, especially the Alamance County Board of Commissioners.

   “I think in some ways people are seeing this as an either or, not that we need the new school regardless,” Rose said.