By Mike Parks and Morgan Smith
County staff doesn’t think proposed facility upgrades for Independence High School are as important as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders do, as evidenced by the 2015-17 capital projects ranking list presented to Mecklenburg County Commissioners last week.
The proposed upgrades would provide career and technical education for students offering automotive, carpentry, cosmetology and culinary programs and would provide a hub school for students at Butler, Rocky River and East Mecklenburg high schools interested in technical career paths. CMS leaders ranked the project 13th among an 18-project, nearly $300-million capital improvement request in hopes the 18 projects would be included in a bond package voters likely will see on the ballot in November. The CMS projects were pitted against proposed projects at Central Piedmont Community College and county park and recreation requests, among other investment proposals.
The county’s ranking list, presented Tuesday, May 21, to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, saw three CMS projects jump ahead of the Independence project, which also included career and technical facility upgrades at Garringer and North Mecklenburg high schools. County staff valued the Statesville Road Elementary School replacement project, Selwyn Elementary School renovation project and Northridge Middle School addition project higher than the career and technical upgrades, though all three were ranked lower by CMS.
“We came up with a list that we think is important for our school district,” CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison said. “What we want to see is for the Board of County Commissioners to honor it. We hope that they would work with us and honor our priority list.”
A number of CPCC projects, including construction of an additional building at the college’s Levine Campus in Matthews to create space for more students and a middle college partnership with CMS, are ranked higher on the county’s list than the career and technical projects, which are now 25th on the county’s priority ranking. A project at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in north Mecklenburg and relocation of the county’s Child Support Enforcement group, also are ranked higher. The Levine Campus project, ranked 13th, is likely the only project to be included in the next bond package.
“It’s frustrating to us that we’re trying to be collaborative with the community college – not in competition,” Morrison said. “What’s been expressed to us is ‘Why can’t we work to have more available funding?’ CMS prioritized the projects and now we have to be held accountable for those decisions.”
No other Matthews or Mint Hill projects made the CMS top priority list, with several projects falling short of the top 18 including a new elementary school that would provide overcrowding relief for Lebanon Road and J.H. Gunn elementary schools, a 54-classroom kindergarten through eighth-grade school to provide overcrowding relief for Bain and Clear Creek elementary schools and Mint Hill Middle School, a replacement school for Matthews Elementary and renovations at Crown Point Elementary.
Other projects for Matthews and Mint Hill ranking low on the county’s priority list were renovations for the South County Regional Library in Charlotte which ranked at 46th, installation of a tunnel on the Four Mile Creek Greenway under South Trade Street in Matthews, which ranked 50th, development of the planned Ezell Farms Community Park in Mint Hill, which ranked 70th and improvements to Colonel Francis Beatty Regional Park near Matthews, which ranked 75th.
County commissioners were expected to discuss the budget at a public forum Thursday, May 30, after Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly’s press deadline.