BREAKING: Olde Providence eyed as site for new high school

CMS board member tells Ledger that the board hasn't approved a site but work started there this week

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CMS board member: 4 sites are under consideration, and the district has started testing soil at Olde Providence

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools might be zeroing in on a site for a new high school in south Charlotte — and it’s right next to Olde Providence Elementary School on Rea Road.

Neighbors in Olde Providence say CMS this week started soil testing on the site, which required the removal of some trees. Cutting down trees always grabs the attention of neighbors — especially in south Charlotte — so they started poking around for answers.

On a private Facebook group on Saturday, one of the neighbors said she received the following reply from school board member Margaret Marshall:

I heard this week from our Facilities and Planning Dept that soil testing is beginning on that site. Some trees are being removed so that machinery can have access to the wooded portions of the site. It is looking like that is going to be the site for the new high school. We have been weighing sites and have been talking to folks with larger holdings for quite some time and have not found anything large enough or at a price not completely astronomically high so that we could put that project in another location.

Marshall and the neighbor did not immediately return messages from the Ledger on Saturday afternoon.

Voters approved a school-bond package in 2017 that included construction of a new high school in south Charlotte. It was advertised as a $110M project designed to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg. School officials also said at the time that it could pull students from Myers Park and Olympic. It was expected to open in 2023. The CMS website says: “planning and architect contract continue to progress.”

Big effects: The decision on where to put the high school could have huge effects on property values, school boundaries and traffic — a trifecta of vital concerns to many south Charlotte homeowners. The selection of a site is not a done deal. Board members have said little publicly about the location. State law allows them to discuss potential land acquisitions in private.

The site: Property records show CMS owns a 40-acre rectangular parcel on Rea Road, between Colony and Providence roads, that is surrounded on three sides by single-family houses. The front 1/3 or so contains Olde Providence Elementary School. The rear portion has several baseball fields and it also contains a densely wooded area with a path and a creek.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is eyeing a site adjacent to Olde Providence Elementary School for a new high school that could relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell and South Meck. (Photos from Google Maps, Polaris)

The Olde Providence area is zoned for Myers Park High. Areas immediately to the east and south go to Providence High, and areas to the west go to South Meck.

It’s not all that close to Ardrey Kell, which concerns school board member Sean Strain, who represents that area.

Strain told the Ledger that CMS has four site options for the new high school. He declined to identify the other three but said the Olde Providence site is the northernmost location and would do little to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell. He also said the Olde Providence site might be too small to accommodate a high school.

“Is it possible to put the south-county relief high school behind Olde Providence? Yes, it’s possible,” he says. “We put men on the moon. It’s possible. But it is sub-optimal at best, and at worst, it is irresponsible.”

Leadership turmoil: Strain said the school board has received no recent updates on the new site and that it has made no decisions. He said former Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who was forced out last month, seemed to favor the Olde Providence site.

“The board has not received an update on land acquisitions in these bond projects for a couple of months, for obvious reasons with what has been going on with our leadership,” Strain said. “This week, this issue came up in a conversation, and I echoed these same sentiments: ‘Wait a minute — we never discussed the pros and cons of the four sites.’ That discussion has to be had before we move forward. Literally the next day, I received a call about trees falling at Olde Providence.”

He said one of the other sites is owned by Mecklenburg County. He said the other two are privately owned but that he is aware of no negotiations.

Ardrey Kell, Strain said, “is not only the most overcrowded school currently but also the fastest-growing school. This would be the least likely site to provide the sort of relief that’s necessary.”

Note: As more details on this story develop, I’ll put them on the Ledger’s website. The Ledger is primarily an e-newsletter, but it’s easier to handle developing, breaking news there than to keep bombarding you with emails if updates pour in.


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The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.