School Board seeks middle ground on crowding fix

By on February 25, 2013

A class at Manteo Elementary School. (DCS)

A class at Manteo Elementary School. (DCS)

The Dare County Board of Education is paring down a plan to add more space to overcrowded Manteo Elementary School with the hope that a cheaper price tag will motivate county commissioners to OK the project.

BOE Chairman Ben Sproul said an expansion is the best solution to capacity issues that have plagued the Roanoke Island school since 2008. With a student population of 734, the building is over capacity by 141 students.

“The best option is to add capacity where we need it, and based on what we have now and on long-term growth projections, we need it,” Sproul said.

A second option, if an expansion project fails, would be to adjust attendance lines so that a portion of Manteo students are moved to Nags Head Elementary.

“This need is not going to go away,” Sproul said. “If we move attendance lines now, we’d still have to build something a few years from now and possibly have to move attendance lines a second time. To build now is the smart thing to do.”

Superintendent of Schools Sue Burgess concurred, saying during an interview that Roanoke Island and Manteo are two areas of the county that have seen the most growth during the past five years. And with construction of a new bridge over Oregon Inlet project pending, she added that more families will likely relocate to the area.

“Where we really need more capacity is on Roanoke Island,” Burgess said.

The expansion plan, scratched from the board’s Capital Improvements Plan last May, is now getting a second look by a committee of board members, an architectural consultant and school officials. If it moves forward, the project would likely include between six and eight classrooms.

The original project proposed in 2008 was slated to cost anywhere between $2 and $5 million, but Burgess said the committee is working to keep costs as low as possible and still have a facility that meets the needs of students.

Expansion of core facilities would likely not be included in the new estimate.

“I think we know that if we don’t stay at the lower end of that estimate, it’s not going to work,” the superintended said. “The committee is also looking at where an addition would be constructed and what type of construction would be the least disruptive to everyday activities at the school.”

The cheapest, fastest construction project would include a separate, stand-alone wing.
If commissioners vote not to support the project, education leaders will then look at adjusting attendance lines, Sproul said.

Such a shift has been discussed by the board in the past and would likely include moving roughly 140 Manteo students to Nags Head Elementary and 150 Nags Head students to Kitty Hawk Elementary School.

Educators have been reluctant to bus elementary school children across the bridge.

Regardless of what avenue the Board of Education pursues, it would be at least another full school year before Manteo Elementary sees any relief. But Burgess said the staff has been coping well with the limited space by using creative scheduling and extra personnel.

Sproul said once the board arrives at a plan and cost it is comfortable with, it will go to a committee of the county’s Board of Commissioners and ultimately commissioners will have to vote on whether to fund the project.

“We are in a very delicate phase right now,” the chairman said. “We are going though the plan with a fine-toothed comb to come up with a project to fill the need we have without breaking the bank,” Sproul said.

In the end, Sproul says solving the overcrowding issue at the elementary school comes down to equity.

“Some kids have less space to work and that isn’t equitable,” he said. “This would ensure everybody’s child has a similar level of educational opportunity.”

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