Bolin Creek and Chapel Hill High School

Flooding and mold problems have plagued the Chapel Hill High School over the years. A poor plan when the school was built in the 1960’s placed the building on top of drainage ways and intermittent streams which over time has caused rainwater to flow under and into school buildings during storm events causing mold and flooding problems.

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro School Board decision to devote the available bond funds only to the Chapel Hill High School renovation was an unexpected change in December. The Board and District at first favored two projects: the Lincoln School renovations that combined three projects – a preschool, administrative offices and Phoenix Academy – a choice that seemed to address the capacity concerns, in addition to the Chapel Hill High School renovation.

When the bid for the Lincoln project came in 40% over budget, the Board had to decide how to spend the 72 M bond funds from the long list of pressing needs. After hearing from over a hundred parents and students at a December 7th Board meeting, the School Board voted to make the High School project the top priority project. It is not clear yet how the Lincoln project or the other identified needs will be addressed. Read the Durham Herald article here.

 

Since the beginning, Friends of Bolin Creek has advocated for a renovated high school school campus that will protect a beautiful stretch of Jolly Branch, a tributary to Bolin Creek and ensure dry classrooms. Last Spring at our request, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district office hosted a site visit “walk-about” to review the current high school plan renovation with Board members, stormwater experts and the public with the objective of understanding the stormwater challenges of the site.

We discussed with the project architects the existing drainage patterns running through the school site and the value of building into the design wetland features that would serve to educate students about habitat, as well as performing a treatment function for stormwater before it enters the creeks.

We believe school board members support our goal of a school design that will avoid future flooding problems and at the same time will protect the fragile ecology of pristine Jolly Branch, a tributary of Bolin Creek.

Here is a simplified time line of major events since the voted approve a bond for schools in the fall of 2016.

  • 2010 – 2012.  Chapel Hill- Carrboro Schools conducts Facilities Study identifying 330 M in needed improvements.
  • November 2016.  Voters pass “Kids and Families” successful county bond campaign for 125 M for schools and 5 M for Affordable Housing.
  • October 2017.  The bid for Lincoln Center exceeds expectations by over 40%. (21M original estimate, now 38M)
  • November 2017.  The School Board and administration requests 30 more million dollars from Orange County to complete the two highest priority projects which includes Chapel Hill High School. Commissioners declined the request and asked the School Board to prioritize what to do with the available bond funds. View County Commission – School Board discussion here.
  • December 7, 2017.   Chapel Hill- Carrboro School Board meeting at Smith Middle School;  Rani Dasi was elected chair and new school board members Amy Fowler and Mary Ann Wolf installed; over 100 speakers request that the School Board make Chapel Hill High School project first priority.
    • Chapel Hill Stormwater Advisory Board members also testified to their concern that despite resource problems, fixing the stormwater issues in the new plan would ultimately lower costs while reaping water quality and educational dividends.
    • At this meeting the newly installed School Board decisively voted for the High School renovation as the first priority.

The unexpectedly high bid for the Lincoln project, the creation of a work group to bring better collaboration between the District and the County, and the subsequent decision to go ahead first with the high school has changed the dynamics. The pause creates an opportunity for a more thoughtful well considered design for the High School renovation.

At the November 20th County Commission meeting,  Superintendent Pam Baldwin proposed an intergovernmental work group to discuss short term, as well as longer term steps to bring about joint School Board/County Commission discussions thus bringing a more collaborative approach to the upcoming funding challenges.

From a stormwater perspective, we think the rebuilding of a new high school offers a terrific opportunity, not only to plan better for dry classrooms and maintain the ecology of our streams, but to inspire and educate students about rain gardens and the natural ecosystem.

 

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