There are two key questions that need to be answered about the proposed 800-student "concept" high school on Moore County Schools' Master Facilities Plan.
The first question is what to teach there. You can read about that discussion on Page 7 of the October 17 Seven Lakes Times or here.
The second question is where to put the school.
Ever since the idea of a concept high school first saw the light of day in Moore County, the assumption among many, if not most, of its advocates has been that the new school would be conveniently located next to the campus of Sandhills Community College — quite likely built on land currently owned by the college.
But that idea has some folks wondering why the new school — which is supposed to be a driving force for economic development — would be built on the opposite end of the county from Robbins and North Moore — the part of the county that most desperately needs economic development.
Why place the school that houses the district's technical career training facility so far away from those students most likely to seek vocational training rather than college admission?
Ritter: Everything is centered in the south
Commissioner Otis Ritter, who hails from Robbins, made those points explicitly in a joint meeting of the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, October 14.
"I think you need to look at where you locate this facility so that it will be equitable for everyone," Ritter recommended. "What I am hearing from people up north is that everything is centered in the south."
School Board Chair Kathy Farren pointed out that students from Foxfire or from Lobelia would have and equally long commute to an SCC location for the new high school.
"That's the very reason that I said you need to be careful as to where this is located," Ritter said. "Look at the population. Look at what people are going to have to do."
"The northern end of this county is very depressed, period," he said. "And you are going to put a burden on these families and put these people on the road to get the education for this child that he needs or wants. That type of education is what drives that end of the county."
"So, I just ask you to look at the location, and not look at the idea that someone is going to donate the land to you."
The market for technical education
School Board member Charles Lambert once served as principal of the Moore County's original centralized center for technical education, Pinckney Academy, located in Carthage.
Lambert, whose district encompasses North Moore, noted during Tuesday's meeting that making the concept high school successful will require attracting a substantial number of students, which in turn will require finding the course offerings they want.
"When Pinckney was around, we had thirty and forty a day from North Moore," he said. "A lot of folks in that area key in on nursing, auto mechanics, and all that."
Kids want to be with kids
Robbins native Ernie Hussey, a retired educator who has taken an active interest in the educational policies and funding issues since moving back to Moore County, urged the School Board, during its Monday, October 13 meeting, to consider locating the concept high school not adjacent to SCC, but instead on the campus of North Moore High School.
"I would love to see the conceptual school put at North Moore," Hussey said.
"North Moore people can't afford to drive to Carthage, the middle of the county. They can't afford it," he said. "But most people down here who would take these courses can afford it. Maybe we should get a bus running from Aberdeen or Pinehurst up there. But most of these people can afford to drive."
He cautioned the board that it is essential to get the concept high school formula right, pointing to a newly-opened, stand-alone Wake County technical high school that is only thirty percent occupied.
"Kids want to be where other kids are," Hussey said, and locating it at North Moore would provide a large overall student body.
"You will have an albatross if you try the same thing [as Wake County]."
Pulling students from Pinecrest and Union Pines
During Tuesday's meeting, some school board members pushed back against the suggestion that the concept high school should be located somewhere more central than the SCC campus.
"Pinecrest and Union Pines are where we are trying to pull students out of," Laura Lang argued. "We're not trying to pull students out of North Moore."
The Pinecrest and Union Pines campuses are already overcrowded, while North Moore is below capacity — and expected to remain so through 2024.
Noting that some existing technical training programs — like auto mechanics or culinary arts — would need to be removed from the Union Pines and Pinecrest campuses and moved to the concept school, Lang said those programs would likely remain in place at North Moore.
MCS Director of Operations Phillip Boles displayed a map, constructed by OREd, the Operations Research and Education Laboratory at NC State, that projected ideal locations for five new Moore County schools, given shifting population, traffic patterns, and district lines.
A red circle representing the best site for a new high school centered on the SCC campus.
"If we were going to say that we won't build a concept high school, we would build a comprehensive high school close to where the population is," Superintendent Dr. Robert Grimesey said.
He explained that a new comprehensive high school would be located within the OREd circle and within two miles of Pinecrest High School.
"Or else we would be paying a lot of money to ship a lot of people a long distance, and the operational cost of transportation would be prohibitive," he explained.
Commissioners Chairman Larry Caddell, who spent more than two decades on the SCC board, said he had consistently advocated that the college hold on to a forty-seven acre tract across the street from the main campus "for a special occasion."
"It may not be the most centrally-located," he said, "but it is a beautiful piece of property."