New high school subject of information session

Macon County Board of Education Chairman Jim Breedlove addresses members of the Clarks Chapel Community regarding the proposed construction of a new high school. Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin (seated) also spoke.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

With significant changes in the works for the Macon County School System, the Clarks Chapel Community Club hosted school Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin and Board of Education Chairman Jim Breedlove on Monday night for an information session.

Breedlove addressed the group of Clarks Chapel residents to update them on the future of Franklin High School and the process of building a new school.

“The main building at the high school was build in the early 1950s, making that building over 70 years old this year,” said Breedlove. “That means 70-year-old electric wiring and 70-year-old piping systems. With the age of that building it is understandable that we are looking at serious issues.”

Breedlove noted that the Macon County Board of County Commissioners approved moving forward with the RFQ (request for qualifications) bidding process to solicit bids from architectural firms to build a new high school. The RFQ is looking for architectural designs to build a new high school facility on the same property upon which the current school is located.

“Right now, one of the proposed plans for the building would be to level the practice football field to the same level as the vocational building and then construct a multi-story building to house the majority of academic classes in one building,” said Breedlove. “Right now, we have 11 different buildings on the campus, which you can imagine is not only costly to maintain, but also poses a security risk.”

Dr. Baldwin explained that a couple of years ago the school system constructed a safety fence around the high school campus which reduced  the more than 100 entry and exit points to just a handful, but monitoring multiple buildings is still not as safe and secure as county leaders would like. The new high school proposal would consolidate the buildings to have a more centralized entrance and exit point.

The process of constructing a new high school will not be a quick one, and according to Dr. Baldwin, even best case scenario would have a new facility completed in 2025, meaning incoming freshmen would graduate before a new facility is finished.

Many members of the Clarks Chapel Community noted that they attended Franklin High School in the building still in operation today and offered their support for building a new, modern high school.

Breedlove cautioned that with the continuing rise in construction costs, a new high school will likely need a tax increase on the county level for completion, with estimates ranging from $70-$90 million. Potential ways to save the county funding in annual operational costs are being considered by the board such as the possibility  of combining schools such as Union Academy and Macon Early College on the same campus, even while operating as separate schools. However, those ideas are still being reviewed.

Dr. Baldwin said that while many schools in Western North Carolina have seen a decrease in student enrollment — Macon County remains one of the few districts to see an increase over the last 5 to 10 years, which has resulted in several expansion projects, such as a six-classroom addition at South Macon Elementary School.

“We are also currently looking at a six-classroom expansion at East Franklin Elementary School to accommodate our growing enrollment numbers,” said Dr. Baldwin. “The high school has seen that same growth and a new modern facility will be better designed for today’s class sizes, which as you can imagine are much different than when it was built for classes in the 1950s.”

According to Dr. Baldwin, many schools in the district have been renovated or expanded over the last decade, leaving Franklin High School as the last facility to undergo any significant changes. The last addition to the high school was completed in 2000, making the newest building on the campus  now more than 20 years old.