Cary school is ‘deteriorating all around us.’ Parents, teachers want major renovations.
Students at an aging Wake County middle school are fainting from the heat and freezing from the cold on a campus that sometimes smells of mildew and sewage, according to a group of worried parents and teachers.
Families and educators at West Cary Middle School urged the Wake County school board this month to speed up renovations to their nearly 60-year-old campus. Speakers laid out at their concerns at the board meeting and said that they feel like West Cary has fallen through the cracks.
“We go back to a place where we feel like we are forgotten,” Adam Tollerud, a healthful living teacher, told the school board. “We just don’t want to be forgotten anymore.”
West Cary isn’t currently in line for major renovations in the district’s capital improvement program. But district leaders say they’re working on updates to the rolling seven-year plan and are seeing what improvements they can make in the meantime.
“There are some things we can and will do for that school In the interim,” Mark Strickland, Wake’s chief facilities and operations officer, said in an interview. “We have a lot of old schools.”
Issues from 20 years ago still present
Parts of West Cary Middle’s campus, located off Evans Road in Cary, date back to 1964. Additions were made into the 1990s. It’s a sprawling campus with multiple buildings that now serves 857 students.
Herb Thames’ first stint as a teacher at West Cary was in 1988. The alternative learning center teacher and coach told school leaders that many of the same issues 20 years ago are still present today.
Thames says his student-athletes ask him why West Cary doesn’t look like the other schools they visit.
“I don’t want our school to continue to be called the ghetto school because we were once the celebrity school,” Thames told the board.
Breathing mold and mildew
At the start of the year, social studies teacher Norris Collins said school staff conducted a survey on how the state of the building is impacting students and staff. He listed several of the concerns at the school board meeting:
▪ Classrooms leaking or flooding from pipes occasionally bursting or after heavy rains.
▪ Various times where the 7th and 8th grade halls have had issues with sewage, “the smell of which is not easy to forget,” Norris said.
▪ Classrooms either being freezing cold or too hot, including the music rooms where Norris said several students have fainted throughout the year.
▪ Major cracks running along classroom walls in the 6th-grade hall.
▪ Moldy and dingy walls and floors throughout the building.
“While so many of us are proud to be members of the West Cary community, it’s often hard to be proud of the building that we work in that so often feels if it’s deteriorating all around us and has been for as long as many of us can remember,” Collins told the board.
Other speakers listed concerns such as bathrooms breaking, termite problems, a “weird damp odor in the media center” and carpets with mold and mildew.
“We’ve had students with asthma and allergies that shouldn’t have to breathe that in: that mold, that mildew,” Leonard Fecher, a social studies teacher, told the board. “Our students, our staff deserve safe and comfortable classrooms to learn and to teach in. “
‘Sleepless nights’ over safety
Teachers and parents also have safety concerns due to the campus design.
Collins told the board there are 20 separate points of entry due to the multiple buildings. Students have to walk outside past breezeways to change classes between buildings.
Students must use a public greenway to get to the main athletic field and track. That greenway also poses other safety issues for the school.
“The Town of Cary greenway trail doesn’t have a strong border to the school, so random people walk onto the campus during the day, which raises safety concerns,” said Michele Wilson, a parent of 6th-grade twins, PTA advocacy chair and substitute teacher at West Cary.
After seeing the rundown appearance of the campus and the safety concerns, Dany Losh told the board that she’s worried about her daughter starting 6th grade at the school later this year.
“To put it bluntly, I spent a lot of sleepless nights after my child was accepted into West Cary Middle,” Losh said. “I’m very concerned about our children learning in an environment that is not healthy, but especially that is not safe.”
Last year, West Cary was ranked 23rd on the school district’s prioritization list for major renovations. It was not among the seven major renovations funded by a $530.7 million school bond referendum approved by voters in November.
Wilson, the West Cary parent, said they want the school moved into the top 10 of the priority list to be included in the next school bond.
“The reality is the kids at West Cary notice the other schools are in better condition and they feel disrespected and I’m sure the teachers and staff must feel it too,” Wilson said. “It is not a good learning environment for kids when it’s unbearably hot or cold in the classroom or when the bathrooms are constantly not working.”
Maintenance work planned
Strickland, Wake’s chief facilities and operations officer, said West Cary will likely be among the schools they’ll do further evaluations on to see what work needs to be done to the campus. But he said the updated list of major new renovation projects might not be presented until early next year and any work wouldn’t be done until 2032-33.
But Strickland said that doesn’t mean that West Cary won’t get any repairs until then. Strickland has toured the school and will speak to the PTA about what’s being planned.
In terms of the safety concerns, Strickland said there are safety projects that will be scheduled at the school.
Strickland said a fire alarm upgrade was recently done to the school. Other areas that will be addressed include floor tiles, blinds and potentially some repainting.
Wake will replace some worn-out HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) units. Strickland said in some cases, such as the HVAC units for the music and band rooms, they had been waiting for parts to arrive.
“There are some other maintenance items that we need to address at the school and are working on plans to get them addressed when we can,” Strickland said.