Wilmington officials approve rezoning for school construction

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College Park Elementary exterior
A rendering of the planned new construction of College Park Elementary School. (Courtesy LS3P Associates)

The Wilmington City Council has approved a special use permit that would allow the New Hanover County School system to replace the aging College Park Elementary School, located on 15.45 acres at 5001 Oriole Drive.

The school, which serves students from kindergarten to fifth grade, was built in 1964 and is located in what’s known as a medium density residential district near the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. Because it is located in a residential-only zone, a special use permit is required for any renovation or construction work on the school.

The school system plans to build a 81,200-square-foot elementary school that would hold a maximum of 544 students, an increase from its current capacity of about 520 students. A new school is necessary, according to officials, because the current 1960s pod design, which requires children to move from one part of the school to another in outdoor hallways, poses safety hazards.

“All of the students will be under one roof, [and] classes are distributed over two floors,” said Leanne Lawrence of LS3P Associates, the architecture and design firm contracted for the project. “They’re currently walking between classes, between pods to get to classes whether it’s rainy or sunny. There are some protected areas, but there will be greatly improved security for the students and for the staff as well to be able to control who is in the building as opposed to right now, where it’s really wide open to anyone.”

The outdated school will also be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and WiFi access in all of the classrooms. It will also be more energy efficient.

While Councilmember Charlie Rivenbark applauded the plans for improvements to the school, he wanted to make sure potential growth in the future was accounted for with the building.

“I don’t want to see a brand new beautiful school, and then trailers three years down the road,” Rivenbark said.

Eddie Anderson, the NHCS director of facilities, said the board of education did not want to exceed the 544 student maximum for an elementary school, and that the district as a whole is not looking to create more space with mobile classrooms.

“We would love to eliminate all of the trailers. We have some trailers in use that are as old as College Park Elementary School,” Anderson said. “That would be our goal, is to get rid of all the trailers in the district.”

The application was approved unanimously by a 7 – 0 vote. According to Anderson, the project is part of the 2014 bond program. Construction is set to begin at the end of the 2016 – 2017 school year.

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