Money allocated for new Ballantyne high school
Plus: Retailers' perspective on face-covering laws; Photo essay around the town of Matthews; Optimist Hall envisions addition; Who's ready for the Duke's Mayo Bowl?
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County approves $27.5M to buy land to relieve south Charlotte overcrowding; Olde Providence dodges a bullet
by Tony Mecia
A new high school for south Charlotte appears headed for Ballantyne, as county commissioners this week approved giving Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools $27.5M to buy land.
The move helps address a longstanding complaint by south Charlotte parents that the county and CMS have failed to build enough schools in fast-growing south Charlotte, which has some of the worst overcrowding in the district.
At a meeting on Tuesday, commissioners agreed to fund a CMS request for land for a new high school. The county did not publicly disclose the site, but CMS has been pushing for a site on the corner of Johnston and Community House roads near I-485 in the Ballantyne area.
‘Really big deal’: County commissioner Susan Harden confirmed to The Ledger on Thursday that the money is for that site, which is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and contains the British International School.
“It’s huge,” Harden said. “There are just not that many large tracts of land left in south Charlotte, frankly. … To be able to build a comprehensive high school in south Charlotte is a really big deal.”
The site would include a football stadium and other athletic facilities, so the new school would not have to share them with another school.
The deal isn’t finished, but Harden said: “I think it’s going to get done.”
Why it matters: The new school would help relieve overcrowding at south Charlotte high schools and would require attendance boundary changes throughout the area. Those changes could also trickle down to elementary and middle schools because attendance zones tend to correspond to high school boundaries. School zones can be a factor in property values.
The 80-acre site is mostly wooded and is bordered on the north by Four Mile Creek. Many parents consider it to be an ideal location because it is in between Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg high schools — which the district says need the most relief from overcrowding. It could also help relieve Myers Park High. Those are the three largest high schools in the state, each with more than 3,200 students, according to CMS figures.
CMS might not purchase the entire parcel. The Ledger reported in February that the Diocese had the land under contract to apartment developer Woodfield Development. A partner with Woodfield was overheard by The Ledger at a real estate conference expressing surprise to a city official that CMS had publicly said it was interested in the land. “I have it under contract!” he said.
CMS, like other local government entities, has the ability to force sales through the power of eminent domain. If it wants a certain parcel for a school, it can usually get it through negotiation without going to court.
A county finance official told commissioners on Tuesday: “The $27.5 million is the total estimated cost of land for the South Mecklenburg relief high school.” That level of specificity suggests that CMS has had conversations with the landowner and has an idea what it would cost.
The tax value of the entire 80 acres of the Diocese land is listed at $33.6M.
School board member Sean Strain, who represents the area, told The Ledger on Thursday: “We appreciate the county’s support in terms of the continued capital investment in high school capacity for the south part of the county.” He said he was hopeful that a deal could be in place to buy the land in the next few weeks.
Red dot: The Ledger took a copy of the school district’s assignment map and placed a big red dot where the new Ballantyne high school would be.
Given its location, the most obvious way to relieve overcrowding would be to fill the new school with students from the southern part of the South Meck zone and the northern part of Ardrey Kell’s, while possibly shifting students in the Myers Park “boot” along Colony Road to Providence, South Meck or the new school. (However, CMS does not always follow the obvious paths.)
Better than original option? The county’s move appears likely to end the year-long drama of selecting a site for the new high school, as CMS had said it was running out of money to buy land in pricey south Charlotte and had been casting around for a suitable location. Last summer, CMS evaluated land it already owns behind Olde Providence Elementary School on Rea Road, but while that would have saved money, the site was widely panned: Neighbors objected that it was too small, would create too much traffic on narrow streets and cut down cherished woods; and parents in Ballantyne said building a school in a location so far north wouldn’t relieve crowding at Ardrey Kell.
South Charlotte has been clamoring for a new high school for years, and voters in 2017 approved a school bond that included money for a high school. But the money didn’t go as far as CMS had hoped. It cited rising costs of land and construction, and in February it agreed to reduce the size of new high schools from 125 classrooms to 100, which saved $25M.
Schools in south Charlotte are some of the most overcrowded in the district, according to CMS statistics. Ardrey Kell is at 161% utilization and South Meck is at 132%. There are similar crunches in middle and elementary schools.
Four years away: CMS documents show the new south Charlotte high school is scheduled to start with design and permitting in September and to be finished with construction in June 2024.
Previous Ledger articles on the south Charlotte high school:
“Huge Ballantyne land sale stirs high school hopes” (Sept. 27, 2019)
“South Charlotte land crunch limits school sites” (Aug. 23, 2019)
“The day the bulldozer arrived at Olde Providence” (Aug. 19, 2019)
Photo essay: A stroll through Matthews
Track in front of Brace Family YMCA is normally teeming with soccer players and joggers, but on this day a solitary man walked along the track.
A solitary cat is the only thing breathing at the Matthews Farmers Market.
Worker at Renfro Hardware helps a customer shielded by clear plastic shield.
Matthews Library book return boxes closed for use.
Each week, The Biscuit and The Ledger offer views of neighborhoods and communities across the city through the eyes (and lenses) of local photographers.
Should retailers enforce face-covering laws?
Starting today, Raleigh is mandating face coverings for people in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies where social distancing cannot be maintained. Durham County has had such a rule since April. The town of Boone voted to make masks mandatory starting this weekend, and Charlotte and Mecklenburg leaders are interested in the idea, too.
Since government requirements on face coverings seem to be the hot new trend for containing the spread of Covid and are mostly aimed at people while in stores, we turned to Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, for his perspective.
Ellen said that stores want customers to have confidence that they can shop safely. But if governments are going to pass rules mandating face coverings, they shouldn’t leave the requirement to retailers to enforce, he said.
“What we strongly suggest is if those elected leaders want to make that the requirement for the general public, then they need to be the enforcement arm for the general public,” he said. “We should not make retail employees into the facial covering police. We’ve seen numerous events of violence toward retail employees when they are requested by the government to enforce those requirements.”
He pointed to an example from Michigan last month, when a security guard at a Family Dollar was shot to death after telling a customer to wear a state-mandated face covering.
He continued: “Especially this summer, you have many kids home from college and many young people in retail at their first job working at a hardware store or somewhere. We shouldn’t be putting them in the position of telling an adult male they can’t come into the store. As a parent, that’s not something I want my child to be required to do.”
Raleigh’s rule that takes effect today provides no penalty for violating it, and police have been encouraged not to write citations. It is unclear how such a rule in Charlotte or Mecklenburg County might be enforced. —TM
Juneteenth observed: “Charlotte-based businesses and organizations ranging from the Carolina Panthers to LendingTree have announced that they will close [today] to observe the holiday. Others, such as Truist and Truliant, have said they will close early.” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when slavery ended. (Observer)
New grants: Honeywell and Charlotte Center City Partners announced a new small-business grant program for companies located in the center city. Grants of up to $40,000 will be available, and “priority will be shown to minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses.” They will also be “targeted to storefront businesses that create unique experiences and ideas with the potential to replicate, scale, or foster collaboration.” Applications open next week. (PR Newswire)
New UNC system president: The head of North Carolina’s community college system, Peter Hans, is in line to become president of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system. He would replace Margaret Spellings, who left last year. Hans is a UNC-Chapel Hill grad. He has previously worked for Republican politicians but is described as a “bipartisan collaborator.” (WFAE/AP)
Optimist Hall addition: The developer of Optimist Hall has filed to rezone three of the site’s parking lots totaling 4 acres. In a statement, White Point Partners didn’t detail plans for the parking lots but said: “We look forward to beginning the process of adding additional office, multi(family) and retail around Optimist Hall in stages, with this being the next development to kickoff.” (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)
Arts cuts: The Arts & Science Council plans to cut four of its 30 jobs, freeze pay for all employees and have its best-paid executives take salary cuts of between 5% and 15%, including president Jeep Bryant. It’s also slicing the operating grants awarded to 33 nonprofits by 50%. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)
South Charlotte E.R.: Atrium Health is opening a new emergency department on Tuesday in Waverly. It will be at the intersection of Providence and Ardrey Kell roads near I-485 and will be called Atrium Health Providence. It will be open 24 hours a day and will provide “immediate care for a range of urgent medical needs, from broken bones and severe cuts, to heart attacks and strokes,” Atrium said.
No holding the mayo: Regular-season and postseason college football games at Bank of America Stadium will have Duke’s Mayonnaise as title sponsor this fall. Get ready for the “Duke’s Mayo Bowl,” ACC vs. Big 10, date TBA. Also: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest on Sept. 26 will be called the “Duke’s Mayo Classic.” The postseason game had recently been called the Belk Bowl. Duke’s parent company is owned by Charlotte-based private-equity firm Falfurrias Capital.
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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.
Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith