By Catharin Shepard Staff writer
A proposed $24 million School of Engineering facility for students in grades 9-12 could be in the county’s future to offer teens more education options, and help deal with overcrowding at the aging Hoke High campus. The Hoke County Board of Education met Monday with county commissioners and Sandhills Community College representatives to talk about the project, which is still only in the discussion phase and has not been approved or funded for development. The SandHoke School of Engineering would be a roughly 64,000 square-foot building constructed on the Sandhills Community College campus in Raeford. The high school would be the county’s newest collaboration with the community college, joining SandHoke Early College High School in the joint partnership. Dr. Dawn Ramseur of Hoke County Schools explained how the school would work. Like SandHoke, students would spend the first two or three years completing their high school course work, then move to Sandhills Community College to take additional classes and complete the requirements for the associates’ degree in applied science. (See ENGINEERING SCHOOL, page 2) That would open up other opportunities at four-year colleges and universities, as Sandhills Community College has agreements and “2+2” programs with some four-year schools, Ramseur said Tuesday. “So we are truly looking at providing students extended learning opportunities beyond high school,” she wrote in an email. Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson described the proposed engineering school as a way to address a “critical need” at Hoke High as well as bring more opportunities to Hoke students. “We have a critical need, but I think this is the quickest route to bring some relief and to address the engineering need,” Williamson said. Currently there are over 1,900 students attending Hoke High and more than 400 students attending SandHoke Early College High School. The new School of Engineering would also include classroom space for SandHoke Early College High School, allowing it to expand to its state-mandated maximum enrollment of 500 students. At full capacity, SandHoke and the School of Engineering together could see up to 1,000 students attending classes on the Sandhills campus in Raeford. Hoke High’s campus has been over capacity for the last six years, due to population growth in the county that began in 2007 due to the federal Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), according to school officials. A facility needs study from 2015-2016 indicated “an urgent need for additional space at the high school level,” according to school system documents. Projections from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management predicts that Hoke’s population will increase by as much as 50 percent to 88 percent by 2038. That makes the addition of a new high school facility a critical short-term and long-term need, officials said. However, the school system – which relies on the county to provide funding for new school construction – doesn’t have the type of money it would cost to build a new high school and also provide its students with the same amenities that are offered at Hoke High, Williamson previously told the News-Journal. In 2015 the school board discussed a proposed third campus for Hoke High with a roughly $64 million price tag. That was also too expensive: there just wasn’t funding for it, school board Chairwoman Irish Pickett said Monday. Commissioners said at the time that the county didn’t have the revenue to support such a project. Monday’s meeting marked the first time since then that the Board of Education has officially approached the Hoke County Board of Commissioners about new school construction. The county’s most recent new school construction project was the LEED Platinum-certified “green” Sandy Grove Middle School, which opened in 2013. Constructing the middle school involved a public-private partnership with SFL+a and FirstFloor architect and development firms, which allowed the county to take advantage of millions of dollars in tax credits that were available at the time. The school system initially “rented” the building from FirstFloor, and in 2019 deeded ownership over to the county as scheduled.
School of Engineering The proposed $24 million School of Engineering includes about $22 million for the actual construction costs, and an estimated $2 million for the design and planning phase. If approved, funding for the project would likely come from multiple sources. The schools are seeking grant funding from the state’s needs-based public school capital fund, and could discuss the possibility of a local school bond during county budget talks later this spring, officials said. The school system applied for, but did not receive construction funding as part of the state budget, which failed to pass a vote in the North Carolina General Assembly. The school system also has $2.4 million in grant funding from the Department of Defense, earmarked for education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Pickett said. While that money can’t be used for school construction, it could be used to help offset the curriculum expenses for an engineering school. Having a design in hand could help the schools more easily secure grant funding for the project, and would be one of the next steps in the process if the county commissioners choose to support the plan, Williamson said. An early vision for the proposed school could include 22 classrooms/labs, a cafeteria, a multipurpose room, resource rooms and a collaboration space. SFL+a Architects provided the basic cost estimates, though an exact design doesn’t exist yet. The building would be constructed to be an easily modified space, allowing for an adaptable layout that could change over time to fit the school’s needs, according to a grant proposal. It would include laboratories and classrooms, and open common spaces that would allow for collaboration and community involvement. The school would ideally help students prepare for jobs or further training and certification in career areas like architectural technology, civil engineering and geomatics technology, according to the grant application. It could potentially bolster Hoke County’s economy by providing skilled workers in a field that is currently in demand with employers. There could also be other benefits. The school system has been using trailers as classrooms at Hoke High and on the Sandhills Community College campus in Raeford. The School of Engineering building would provide enough space to allow them to remove the trailers on the Sandhills campus, Pickett said. Pickett, who is currently serving on the SCC Board of Trustees as well as the Hoke Board of Education, spoke during the meeting about furthering the partnership. “I look at the vision there, and we have this in common, what it is we all want: outstanding academic achievement for all of our children, to be able to see and to do well and become competitive in life, whatever their endeavors, whether it’s the workforce, college, career or so forth,” she said. “I think we are on the right track here because this is what community college is about, it’s about preparing students as well as adults.” More details about the proposed project are still in the works pending further discussion, Williamson said.
By Catharin Shepard Staff writer