Bursting at the seams

Parents concerned over crowded conditions at Central High
Jan. 05, 2013 @ 05:09 PM

Every school day, as many as 700 Central High School students cram into a split-level and fenced cafeteria designed for 150 students at a time.
During the three lunch shifts, the wait line often stretches out the main cafeteria door as students try to talk to their friends above the noise and clatter of the serving line. 
That’s the lunch break for about half the student body, according to  a group called Citizens for Central. The others either buy lunch off campus from the Main Street McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, or bring their meals. School officials scheduled juniors and seniors during earlier lunch periods knowing that many would carpool to buy lunch off campus. 
“We have two cafeteria lines separated by a divider during each shift,” said Principal Bob Christina. “We can’t move much of the furniture. It’s attached to the floor.”
As many as 900 of the school’s 1,424 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, but the school has capacity to serve 70 percent of them, according to the citizens group.
“That is troubling, because they may not be getting their nutritional needs at home,” said parent Anthony Sedberry, part of Citizens for Central.
Jasmine Brooks, a Central senior along with hundreds of others, want the school, still stately and revered after 86 years, moved to the top of the Guilford County Schools’ renovations list.  As many as 900 Central students signed a petition seeking renovations.
“The lines at the cafeteria are just too long,” Brooks said during a recent forum on school needs.
Parents, teachers and students have told the Guilford County Board of Education that the school, one of the oldest in Guilford County, needs a major renovation to include the cafeteria and media center.
“Too many students go out to eat, and some do not get lunch at all,” parent Brian Hall said at the forum.
The media center is just 46 percent of the size needed to meet standards, according to Cynthia Vaughn, a Central High media specialist. A teacher took over the reference room this year, further shrinking an already small media center, which now seats 22.
Parents, students and other supporters are preparing to take a more detailed case to the school board and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners in January and February, Sedberry said.
“We want to show the school board that Central has a voice,” Sedberry said.
In the coming months, the school board must decide whether to spend $72 million to build a new high school near Piedmont Triad International Airport or use the 2008 bond money to pay for renovations at existing schools across the county.  The district immediately needs $75 million in repairs at 80 schools, according to estimates.
High school enrollments that would feed the new school have stabilized. Central’s enrollment is expected to grow. While Central’s Collegiate Gothic style towers, each four stories high, evoke memories from the era before air conditioning, some portions of the once ultra-modern building now need attention.
“We need a general makeover at the school. We’d like to see money spent for improvements,” Hall said.
• Alternative: Some parents say the 145 students in the Academy at Central magnet school for health sciences could be moved to another building to increase classroom space for Central. As many as 17 teachers, including three science teachers, have no classrooms, Sedberry said. The Tomlinson building at the rear of the campus has 12 classrooms. 
A decision the school board made in 2005 to move Central’s freshman academy from the Tomlinson building has proved to be a mistake, said school board member Ed Price of High Point.
“I was opposed then to the move, and now we see the school board  should not have done it,” said Price, who was elected to the school board in 2010.
Price also has so far favored using the $72 million for renovations at Central and other schools. Central is on the list for $930,000 in additional upgrades.
• New School:  The school board wanted to buy 115 acres at Triad Business Park for a new high school and a future middle school, but the Kernersville Board of Aldermen refused to provide the needed zoning.
The school board still is searching for land for the school. So far, the school district has spent about $3.2 million for real estate searches and engineering reports. The proposed site was valued at $10 million. School officials have evaluated more than 60 possible sites.
Among local high schools, Southwest Guilford got a $31 million expansion and renovation and Ragsdale High a $32 million expansion and renovation. A $5 million gymnasium upgrade is still unfinished at Central. Central and Ragsdale got track upgrades and T.W. Andrews a heating and air-conditioning upgrade, mostly from 2008 bond funds.
“Central is a flagship school, and it needs attention,” Sedberry said. “It has been 20 years since major work has been done. We know the district can’t get all the needed renovations done at all schools that need them. But our plant can’t serve the students we have now.”
dnivens@hpe.com | 888-3626