10/21/18 New high school: What do we know?

New high school: What do we know?
ABSS eyes Hawfields area for proposed school
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 10/21/18    
Reprinted with permission.      

Alamance County needs a high school.

On Nov. 6, the Alamance-Burlington School System will ask the community for the money to build it — roughly $70 million out of a $150 million bond.

Here’s a breakdown of everything there is to know about the proposed project:

Why does the school system need a high school?


Southern Alamance and Eastern Alamance high schools are grossly overcrowded. This has caused a number of problems at both campuses.

This — and the fact that Mebane and Graham are growing rapidly due to their appeal to families who want to live in close proximity to the Triangle — means a seventh high school is needed to take in the overflow and any new students coming into the area.

What would it look like?


Details are scarce. The school system didn’t want to put the cart before the horse and pay for an architect to design a high school before the county passed the bond to pay for it.

What we do know is that it would be approximately 240,000 square feet with a hallway capacity of 1,250 students and a core capacity of 1,500 (meaning the cafeteria, library and gym will be built to handle 1,500 students).

It would be two stories.

Event spaces would be on one side of the building and classrooms on the other. They would be built in a way that made it easy to add on when the time comes to expand.

And it would look more like Williams High School than Graham, Southern, Eastern or Western, which all have “Florida-style campuses,” meaning classrooms are spread out in separate buildings. This was done to create a cross-breeze (because there was no central air conditioning in the early 1960s).

Building one structure with a clear front entrance would help administrators monitor anyone entering or leaving the school, increasing safety.

Where would it be built?


The short answer is, the eastern part of the county.

The longer answer is that Todd Thorpe, the school system’s assistant superintendent for operations, wants to build it in the Hawfields area between Graham and Mebane, but that’s not set in stone.

Public Information Officer Jenny Faulkner pointed out at a public forum Monday, Oct. 22, that had a high school been built along with Garrett Elementary and Hawfields Middle schools in 2000, the county would be in a lot better shape.

If the bond passes, the high school would require 100 acres (assuming 60 are usable). ABSS is reserving $2.5 million of the total cost of construction to pay for it, but administrators are hoping a generous benefactor will donate land.

Though Thorpe has done an informal search, ABSS won’t begin an extensive search for land until it’s clear the high school will be built.

When would it open?


The first step would be to hire an architect to design the school.

Once the architect was hired, it’s estimated it would take at least a year to finish the design, find and purchase land and secure the necessary permits to begin construction.

“Then the project goes to bid, which would [take] approximately two to three months,” Thorpe said. “Once bids are received and approved, the board has to agree to a contract for the contractor. Once construction begins, [it will take] 20 to 30 months for completion depending on the amount of site work required and the overall design of the building. Of course, weather will play a major factor on the front side of the construction.”

In short, the high school wouldn’t open until 2022 at the earliest.

What would the school system name the high school?


The board of education would have the final say on what the high school is named. No ideas have been thrown out yet.

Despite rumors, it wouldn’t be called Graham High School. There’s already a Graham High School.

Does the estimated cost include cushioning for rising construction costs?


Moseley Architects estimates it would cost $67,012,616 to build a high school.

Thorpe said they accounted for inflation as much as they could, but they also can’t predict the future.

What happens if the school turns out to be more expensive than Moseley thought?


The design would be tweaked.

“We [would] add alternate bid items into the bid packet that could reduce the cost,” Thorpe said. “Alternate bid items could include … smaller parking, different HVAC units, different options for athletic fields, inside finishes and floor coverings.”

Why can’t ABSS use Burlington’s abandoned Western Electric site as a high school?


There are a number of reasons that site wouldn’t work, but the main one is that the land isn’t big enough. High schools require athletic fields and parking in addition to the main building.

The former Western Electric facility only sits on 22 acres.

Why is it going to cost $70 million to build a new high school when The Lamb’s Chapel built a 90,000-square-foot church for $15 million?


In July of 2017, The Lamb’s Chapel opened its new church at Alamance and Troxler roads, across from the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport.

It cost roughly $15 million to build the 90,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 36 acres and includes a family life center, recreation facilities and an educational complex.

Some community members have questioned why the new high school, which is slated to be 240,000 square feet, is going to be so much more expensive to construct.

“With a church, you have a lot of open area,” Thorpe said. “In a school building, you’ve got a lot of interior walls, a fully-functioning cafeteria. Churches have cafeterias but they don’t have the fully-functioning cafeterias that we do that are serving kids every day. We’re required to have more travel space. Our codes are very different than churches a lot of times. The cost per square-foot, right now, is going up every day. The cost of construction is going up. The cost of steel just went up again. So you know the cost of construction is continuously climbing. It’s very difficult to compare a private build with a public build based upon the requirements and what we need and what we have to have compared to what they need and what they have to have.”

Why should I vote for this? I don’t have a child in ABSS.


“It’s paying it forward,” Faulkner said. “That’s what the people in 1958 did. People had a vision for building Southern and Eastern and Western and approved that [bond] in 1958 and their vision is still here and now we’re trying to improve it.”

Find out more about the bond by visiting the ABSS homepage www.abss.k12.nc.us and clicking “Facilities Facts About Bond Referendum.”