Leaders in Cumberland County, N.C., agree they need to build a new E.E. Smith High School in Fayetteville, and potential sites are being identified, but the latest cost estimates for replacing the aging facility have left a few commissioners with sticker shock.
The Fayetteville Observer reports that estimates for replacing the school have risen from $90 million in pre-Covid days to more than $159.5 million.
"There's nothing I wanted to do less than to bring $160 million to this group, but everything that we've done says that construction costs have skyrocketed," said Kevin Coleman, the Cumberland County district’s associate superintendent for auxiliary services.
The estimate is based on "comparable" projects in the state, Coleman told county commissioners. A new school being built in the Charlotte area is estimated to cost about $399 per square foot, and officials are estimating rebuilding E.E. Smith would cost about $390 per square foot.
Commissioner Jimmy Keefe said he supports building a new high school, which is "long overdue," but questioned the estimates. Commissioner Vice Chairman Glenn Adams agreed with Keefe about the costs but said he, too, thinks a new school is needed.
"We've been kicking this can for how long?" Adams asked.
Commissioner Jeannette Council said discussions have been ongoing for at least 15 years.
District superintendent Marvin Connelly says the existing building no longer accommodates programming for the school and that research indicates "it's more economical and easier to build a new school on a new site."
The building that houses the historically Black school was constructed in 1953.
E.E. Smith’s attendance area includes students who live on the Fort Bragg military installation. Connelly says Fort Bragg officials have offered 100 acres for a school site. It would be leased to the district for 50 years and renewable every 50 years at a cost of $1.
The district is working with a consultant to determine if the Fort Bragg land is a feasible site for a school.