Friday, February 6, 2009

Panther Creek

There has been much discussion and media attention as of late pertaining to the issue between the Town of Cary and WCPSS regarding the roadway improvements necessitated by the installation of 3 modular buildings (22 additional classrooms) at Panther Creek High School. I believe it important that everyone understand the facts and history involved - here they are:

In August of 2004 Cary approved the site plan for Panther Creek High School with a capacity of 1600 students.

Cary gives Wake County $1.4 million to help purchase the 71 acres Panther Creek High School is located on.

Cary also agrees to invest $2.5 million in roadway improvements associated with the construction of Panther Creek High School. This included the connection and widening of McCrimmon Parkway as well as the construction of two full access drives into Panther Creek High School.

At the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year enrollment at Panther Creek High School is 1498 students WITHOUT A SENIOR CLASS (capacity is 1600). WCPSS is well aware that once Panther Creek has grades 9-12 they will be over capacity and require modular/mobile classrooms. (makes you wonder why the heck we didn’t just build a bigger school doesn’t it?)

On May 16, 2008 (NEARLY 9 MONTHS AFTER THE 2007-2008 SCHOOL YEAR BEGAN) WCPSS finally submits an application to Cary for modular permits. Note: the application was dated April 23, 2008 – it took WCPSS nearly a month to deliver it to Cary. The application however was incomplete. It left out required information such as the number of modular units, classrooms, and a site plan. Cary notifies WCPSS that we need more information and waits.

On July 15, 2008 WCPSS finally submits a complete application. After town staff’s fast track review, Cary informs WCPSS that a traffic study is required due to the additional traffic generated with the addition of 22 classrooms, and that traffic improvements may also be required depending on the study’s findings.

On July 30, 2008 WCPSS submits application for a traffic study - Cary contacts traffic consultant for a price quote.

On Aug 1, 2008 quote is sent to WCPSS. (2 day turnaround)

On Aug 13, 2008 (2 weeks later) WCPSS finally pays for the traffic study and the consultant is instructed to proceed.

On Aug 27, 2008 In an effort to expedite the process Cary informs WCPSS they can move forward with the mobile unit construction with the understanding that CO's will not be issued until a commitment is made regarding roadway improvements.

During this time Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, town staff and I work to develop an arrangement that would allow WCPSS to receive their certificates of occupancy (COs) immediately. WCPSS must simply sign a bonding agreement that states they agree to make needed road improvements identified by the traffic study. WCPSS refuses to sign the agreement.

On September 9 (2 weeks after the 2008-2009 school year has started) the traffic study is completed and WCPSS is notified that the study has indicated needed traffic improvements along Highway 55 as a result of the additional traffic created due to the addition of modular classrooms (22 classrooms totaling 23,984 sq. ft.).

In November WCPSS submits a request to Cary for waiver from the required roadway improvements along Hwy 55. The request is denied by Cary’s Planning and Development Committee and then unanimously denied by Town Council at our Nov. 20 2008 meeting as it is illegal for Cary to waive the required roadway improvements. This information was conveyed to WCPSS numerous times in meetings with school board officials prior to their request coming to council. Council does however agree to extend the timeline of when WCPSS would need to begin roadway improvements to 18 months. Again, if WCPSS signs a bonding agreement they can receive their CO immediately.

WCPSS drags feet for 2 more months consulting with attorneys.

At council’s January 15, 2009 meeting at the request of Councilor Gale Adcock and myself – seeing no action on WCPSS' part – council unanimously agrees to further extend the timeframe when WCPSS must begin roadway improvements to 3 years as we are sympathetic to the school system’s financial issues given the current economy. Again, should WCPSS sign a bonding agreement committing to the roadway improvements WCPSS will receive a CO immediately.

On February 2, 2009 WCPSS officials meet with Cary officials – myself included – to further discuss Cary’s land development ordinance requirements. No resolution. I did however learn one new piece of information - WCPSS has yet to submit a final site plan.

On Feb 3, 2009 we learn that WCPSS will make an offer to Cary to fund up to $750,000 of the required improvements if Cary assumes responsibility for the remainder (roughly $750,000). Cary has yet to receive an official offer.

Now here we are – 17 months after it was crystal clear to WCPSS that Panther Creek would require mobile classroom units - with students taking class in media centers, the library, and hallways while mobile classrooms sit on site empty. Nice.

Any development or addition to development in Cary which generates over 50 peak time vehicle trips is subject to a traffic impact analysis and is responsible for traffic improvements identified in that study before COs are issued. Schools are no exception. WCPSS has tried to argue that the modular units are “temporary”, and therefore should not be subject to the same criteria as brick and mortar development. Cary’s land development ordinance does not distinguish between temporary and permanent uses, and as we are all aware, “temporary” classrooms tend to be permanent. Cary’s only legal option available to excuse WCPSS of paying for these improvements is to pay for them ourselves. Whether Cary pays or WCPSS pays these improvements must be completed by law.

Cary’s budget and financial situation is just as tight as anyone else, and while Cary has opted to bear the burden of roadway improvements associated with school development in the past, this time we are unable to do so. I also fail to see why Cary should bear the burden of WCPSS’ PPPP. What really baffles me however is that for the 2008-2009 school year Panther Creek is 500+ students OVER capacity while Cary High School is 300+ UNDER capacity.

As WCPSS' school board chair has reminded us numerous times, these are county schools – not “neighborhood” schools. And seeing that Raleigh and Morrisville children are also attending Panther Creek, this should be the county’s responsibility should it not? Why should Cary taxpayers be double taxed while those in other municipalities are not?

And in case you are wondering just what has Cary done to help the school system over the years, the answer is simple – 64 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH. That’s right folks, since 2000 Cary has provided WCPSS with over $64 million in cash, land, and infrastructure –more than any other municipality in Wake County – including Raleigh.

Frantz News – I report, you decide.