Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say a $3 billion bond package is not only a way to add classrooms, replace outdated schools and improve learning conditions, but to keep students safer in violent times.
While bond projects take years from planning to reality, the district hasn’t waited to beef up security. In the aftermath of school shootings across the country, CMS has already pumped millions of dollars into installing weapon scanners, security cameras and better-protected school entrances.
But the design of older schools can make them hard to secure. For example, many high schools have multiple buildings on college-like campuses — which means they have lots of exterior doors and students cross the grounds several times a day.
When CMS and county officials met recently to discuss the bonds, Commissioner Leigh Altman noted that the district has “somewhere between 10 or 15,000 students who are on open campuses, and I have a great deal of concerns around security for those kids.”
In addition, at some older schools each classroom opens onto a covered outdoor walkway. That’s an outdated design known as Florida style. And CMS uses more than a thousand mobile classrooms to extend capacity.
CMS construction consultant Dennis LaCaria says new schools are designed to limit access.
“Getting those kids into one building with one front door, with a security vestibule, transforms the security and safety aspect of each one of those campuses,” he told commissioners.
The 2023 plan, which CMS hopes to put before voters in a November referendum, includes major renovations to East Mecklenburg, Garinger, Harding, North Mecklenburg and South Mecklenburg high schools.
It would also replace 14 elementary and middle schools that are in outdated buildings.
Deterring violence and school-skipping
LaCaria talked about crime prevention through environmental design.
“The safety piece starts even before you get to the building,” he said. “Where the driveways actually are. The orientation of the building. Where the hedges and the trees are located. Where the cameras are, because all of our new schools have cameras.”
Those design features not only protect against armed attackers, but provide security for more common incidents, such as after-hours vandalism or students leaving campus.
CMS used money from its $922 million school bonds package approved in 2017 to build a single, 100-classroom building for West Charlotte High to replace the old multibuilding campus on the same site.
Mecklenburg County commissioners will decide how much bond debt they’ll ask voters to approve for CMS. At a March 4 meeting, county officials indicated the district likely will have to scale back the $3 billion plan to reduce the need for a large property-tax hike. And that could leave CMS to decide which schools to prioritize for safer, more modern designs.
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