Overcrowded School's Replacement Depends On The Bond Vote

Nov 2, 2017

The nearly $1 billion bond for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools has received significant opposition in north Mecklenburg county from residents who say it doesn’t adequately address the area’s growth. CMS officials say that area has benefited more from past bonds, and that other parts of the system have bigger needs. 

One of those schools in need is Briarwood Academy in east Charlotte. Briarwood is overcrowded, decaying and some areas may prompt visitors to hold their noses.

Worn front door of Briarwood Academy's main office
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News

The main part of Briarwood Academy was built in 1956. Today, it has more than 800 pre-k through fifth graders with more than half in trailers. The school is showing its age. Hallways are faded and dingy but the most noticeable thing is the dank air.

“The humidity in here is like sticky,” said Briarwood principal Beth Marshall.

She tidies a stack of posters that she’d like to hang on her walls but says she can’t because of the stagnant air.

“I have fans and a dehumidifier in my office. That’s my third dehumidifier. The first two leaked and they made the carpet wet and you know what happens with wet carpet,” Marshall said.

Marshall blames the poor air quality on the building’s often broken air and heating system. She says maintenance crews are called to the school three or more times a week to fix it.

“One day the AC works, one day it’s 80 degrees, the next day 60 in the rooms,” she said. “In the winter, it would be teeth-chattering cold and the next day everybody is sweating.”

Walking through the school, Marshall points to rugs under water fountains. They are placed there to absorb leaks that students were slipping on. Further down the hall in a classroom, the air is not only stuffy, but there’s a strong stench coming from nearby hall bathrooms.

“The restrooms are always overflowing. The pipes are old so just toilet paper clogs them,” Marshall said.

“Sometimes it floods because they are so old in there,” added first-grade teacher Lorraine Jones. “The urine, the smell has a stench to it. Our custodians, they clean and they clean but again, you’re talking 50 years of stench. So they can’t use the bathrooms.”

Click here for list of CMS bond projects

The school bond calls for a new 45-classroom building for Briarwood. If the bond passes, construction would start in the spring of 2020. Jones understands that overcrowding is an issue in other areas but says the condition of Briarwood is unacceptable.

“Having the bonds approved would make a major difference in this school. I’m talking a new building with no mold, no rodents. We keep spraying, they keep coming. But I just think our kids on this side of town deserve a new building just like they make new school buildings across town,” Jones said.

As for principal Marshall, she is clearly worried that the bond may fail.

“The thought of Briarwood not getting a new school and more years of navigating through being in a building that is really old and not to mention it doesn’t house all of our students,” Marshall said. “It’s not 'oh, it would be nice to have a shiny new school.' There’s definitely real need here. I hope they don’t plan on saving this for anything ever.”

Overall, the bond would pay for 17 new schools. Twelve schools would be renovated or expanded. Marshall and her staff encourage parents to vote but say they don’t tell them how to vote. However it plays out, they will still be in this school for a while to come. The earliest a new school will be ready is the summer of 2021.