School board selects path on school groupings, will consider land purchase for Woodland site at a later date

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The Fayetteville School Board this week approved a plan to group elementary schools into a feeder pattern, but tabled a proposal to purchase property to move Woodland Junior High.

The board on Thursday voted unanimously to move forward with a proposal dubbed “B2” that creates three groups of elementary schools that will feed into three middle schools, before moving into three junior highs as part of a plan designed to keep kids together through their school experience. The B2 plan will require Woodland Junior High to be relocated to east Fayetteville, and the new John L. Colbert Middle School would become a junior high school. Ramay Junior High would likely be moved to a new location under the plan.

The district has been considering proposals to re-organize schools in order to alleviate overcrowding at McNair Middle School, and to better balance demographics across the district.

Under the B2 scenario, students from Leverett, Washington, Root and Happy Hollow would stay together through high school, while students from Holcomb would be similarly grouped with Owl Creek students. Students from Butterfield, Asbell and Vandergriff would make up the third group.

Holcomb/Owl Creek elementary students would go to Holt Middle School, while John L. Colbert Middle School would be converted into a junior high to serve these students.

Students at Leverett, Washington, Root and Happy Hollow elementary schools would go to a new middle school to be established in the building currently home to Woodland Junior High, and on to Ramay for junior high school. Ramay would eventually be relocated in a future phase to a new building more centrally located, Superintendent John Mulford said.

Butterfield, Asbell and Vandergriff students would go to McNair for Middle School, and a relocated Woodland Junior High that would need to be built somewhere else.

Estimated enrollment under the B2 proposal would have 577 students in the McNair/Woodland group, 610 in the new middle school/Ramay group, and 462 in the Holt/Colbert group.

The B2 plan came with the endorsement of Mulford, who has been working with demographers and consulting firm MGT to provide solutions to some of the district’s growth challenges. Teachers, staff, and PTO presidents from each of the schools who participated in focus groups also favored the B2 proposal.

Four parents from the Asbell Elementary zone spoke at the meeting and expressed concerns over travel times to middle school and junior high under the B2 scenario. Some requested the district consider a sixth idea, dubbed “E,” that would flip Asbell and Happy Hollow in their groupings.

Mulford, however, said he didn’t favor the change for a number of reasons. Chiefly, he said, the overcrowding at McNair would remain a problem at over 95% of its capacity in that scenario. To balance the issue, the E scenario would require additional boundary shifts for elementary districts, and neither Mulford nor board members who spoke on the matter were in favor of those changes.

A future home for Woodland Junior High

The district voted to table a proposal to purchase property near the intersection of Crossover Road and Joyce Boulevard for the potential construction of a new Woodland Junior High.

The school district has been under contract on the 28-acre property since January at a purchase price of $4.6 million, and has been conducting traffic studies, geotechnical soil studies, and other information gathering as part of a 90-day due diligence period specified in the contract. The board authorized Mulford to pursue property for the new junior high in December.

Results of traffic and geotechnical studies came in this week, but had not been fully evaluated as of Thursday’s meeting.

“I do not feel comfortable acting on this property at this time until we’ve had time to fully dissect the reports,” Mulford said.

Mulford said Thursday he has also been exploring alternate sites, and mentioned two unlisted but potentially available properties near the corner of Gregg and Van Asche as possibilities for the future Woodland location should the property on Joyce not work out. The Van Asche-area sites would be smaller – between 15-17 acres – than the roughly 28-acre site currently under contract on Joyce.

The school board agreed to set a special meeting to discuss the Joyce Boulevard property before the March 19 contract deadline.