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Martin County mulling moving students

By Staff
Bear Grass, Jamesville schools could be closed under consolidation plan
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
Facing the reality of aging schools and a consistently declining student population, the Martin County Board of Education is weighing the option of closing two of its four high schools to reduce costs and improve school facilities.
The school system has built only one new school, Roanoke Middle School, in the past eight years, Martin County Schools Superintendent Tom Daly said Thursday.
Of Martin County’s public school buildings, 34 percent are more than half a century old and 49 percent are more than 40 years old, according to Daly. The newest building at Bear Grass High School, which would close if the schools are consolidated, was built in 1975. The next-newest building at the school was built in the 1950s, according to Daly.
The proposed consolidation would move students attending Bear Grass High School to Roanoke High School in Robersonville. It would also send students at Jamesville High School to Williamston High School. Seventh- and eighth-graders at Bear Grass would move to Roanoke Middle School.
There are currently 1,254 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grades in Martin County’s public schools. That number has been steadily and “continually declining” for 20 years, Daly said.
Roanoke High School currently has 340 students. The school has facilities to accommodate at least 700 students, Daly said. Williamston High School serves about 530 students. It can accommodate about 800 students, he said. There are less than 200 students at each of the smaller high schools, Bear Grass and Jamesville. Using those figures, there is adequate capacity to house all the county’s high school students at Williamston and Roanoke high schools, Daly said.
The estimated cost of keeping all four high schools open — including renovations and new construction to make them functional for at least the next 15 years — is approximately $17 million to $22 million, according to figures posted on the school system’s Web site.
To lessen the cost of running the school system, the Martin County Board of Education voted Dec. 3 to study the possibility of having only two high schools in the county.
The estimated cost of replacing Williamston Middle School is between $12 million and $13 million, according to figures posted on the school system’s Web site. With an estimated operating cost of $29 million looming, the board “is having to make some tough decisions about an issue that has been going on for over 50 years,” Daly said.
No decision to consolidate the schools can be made until the school board holds a public hearing on the issue. The date for that hearing is expected to be set at the school board’s Jan. 6, 2008, meeting.