Image shows a sink hole in a parking lot.

The Money Pit

Despite the promises of a 2016 School Bond, Brunson Elementary’s future has yet to take shape. Construction was scheduled to begin this year however WS/FC Schools still hasn’t decided on a building site.

Of three options currently under consideration, two—a) combining Brunson and Cook and b) Brunson at Brunson—have been around for over a decade. In 2009, after parents petitioned the School System, the Board of Education promised to explore other solutions. These initial efforts focused on downtown land the school system already owned. In 2011, WS/FC Schools proposed sites for building Brunson on the hill beside RJR Reynolds High and at Wiley Middle.

Almost immediately afterwards, the search for a new site was forced into private back room discussions and Brunson parents were kept in the dark. Since then, the school system has withheld this valuable, viable land from consideration. Instead, it invested public dollars and resources in that same area, not for a school building, but for a still unfunded project proposed by a private fundraising group that has failed every financial projection it has ever presented—RJR Home Field Advantage. 

Home Field Advantage members worked closely with WS/FCS staff to develop their project and most recently, 2 members, Crowley and Kaplan, won seats on the Board of Education. They also secured leadership positions on key committees all with a clear and publicly expressed intent to move a Home Field Advantage-designed stadium forward. Their advances have come at a real cost for taxpayers.

Home Field Advantage may have won the means to push their special project, but to do so they convinced our school system to ignore the impact such a project would have on a rapidly growing downtown including further limiting already scant options for a residential elementary school. 

But that’s not all. Forcing a stadium onto the only available downtown school property requires more than political maneuvering—it takes a considerable amount of costly land regrading as well. The school system can insist the stadium project will not have a negative impact on Hanes Park, or that flooding in the area isn’t of concern, or that Wiley’s gym was demolished to replace a bad wheelchair ramp, or that there were no conflicts of interests by voting members, but time will tell. 

And in the time that this imbroglio has been ongoing, the dangerous erosion hidden barely beneath the surface is starting to show. Nothing illustrates this better than the sink hole that has opened up on the edge of Wiley Middle’s parking lot. 

The parking lot was redesigned and resurfaced in 2018 (paid for by the 2016 School Bond). This is not the first time erosion has impacted the parking lot. The recent reconstruction had purported to have fixed the problem. Who knows why the fix didn’t work. It is speculation, but clearly designers had to serve another master as they carved out every inch of available square footage for use as boosters’ future VIP parking. With the seat-count of future stadium seating determined by number of available parking spaces, the count was a key design factor not for Wiley’s needs, but for Home Field Advantage’s

Not to let the dream stadium distract from discussion of Brunson but RJR has a way of becoming embedded into other school projects and finds a way to the table no matter what the school board is discussing. Anyway, the search for a Brunson site looks like it has ended up right where it started. As the WS/FCS Board of Education Chair Woodbury suggested at the Sept. 9th Building & Grounds Committee meeting (discussion starts at 1:09, Woodbury’s comment begins at 2:10), more site options for Brunson should be brought to consideration. Whatever is decided, the priorities guiding the school board’s decisions must be singular and clear. And unfunded private projects must be set aside. A field of dreams as designed by Home Field Advantage to serve booster’s desires has not only become a costly distraction, but also a money pit that will continue to grow unless we put a stop to the erosion of integrity on our school board. 

Brunson will be rebuilt, somewhere. Unfortunately, construction will cost taxpayers at least ten– or twenty– million dollars more than had the school board addressed Brunson’s needs ten years ago. 

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