Buncombe Commissioners unanimously approved spending $1.98 million Aug. 6 to buy land for a new school in Enka.
A new Enka Intermediate School is needed to serve 5th and 6th grade students in the area, with existing facilities aging and overused, reported Dr. Tony Baldwin, superintendent of Buncombe County Schools. The proposed site encompasses 22.17 acres of land at 1243 Sand Hill Rd.
However, Buncombe County School Board member Lisa Baldwin disagreed with his assessment during a public comment period.
"I sympathize with the overcrowding issues, but I have many concerns," she said. "Just because we have the money doesn't mean we have to spend it."
She called for more studies and feedback to determine the proper course forward, questioning if intermediate schools "are the best approach to education."
"There's too many unanswered questions for spending on land to go forward," she asserted.
However, a variety of parents, school officials and county commissioners said they strongly supported the land purchase and new school.
The superintendent noted that the school system's plans have long called for a new Enka building, asserting: "there is no question this school will be needed."
Michelle Pace Wood, a Candler resident and former candidate for commissioner who has long been pushing for the school, called the overcrowding at the current Enka Middle School "crisis level."
"We have been patiently waiting for this school to be built," said Wood. "We know that the parents out there support it." She added: "the longer you wait, the more expensive it will be to build."
Meanwhile, Candler resident Jerry Rice said he was worried about contamination from the nearby former BASF plant as well as pollution in Hominey Creek harming children at the proposed site.
However, the superintendent maintained that "every time we buy property, I can assure you that we do a very thorough environmental assessment." Tim Fierle, director of facility services for Buncombe County Schools, reported that the school system has conducted extensive due diligence studies over the last few months, including environmental assessments, traffic engineering studies, and property appraisal. And the results have yielded no causes for concern, he said.
After examining several other possible sites for a new school, Fierle noted: "My recommendation is this is the most suitable site for a new intermediate school. … this is an excellent site."
Commissioner Joe Belcher, who lives in Enka and represents the area on the board, offered effusive praise.
"I'll tell you how confident I am that you've done your due diligence: My grandson is going to go to that school," Belcher noted. "It's an amazing site for a school. … This is a historic day for me."
The initial money to buy the land is coming from a special sales-tax mandated by state law that must be used for school capital construction and improvements. Total construction of the school is estimated to cost roughly $22 million.
In other business, county commissioners:
• Unanimously voted to begin the process of transferring management of Buncombe County's libraries, parks and recreation facilities to a new Culture and Recreation Authority (CRA). Commissioners decided to appoint themselves to sit on the new seven member board until they receive applications from others to fill the positions, which they directed staff to advertise for immediately. Commissioners plan to meet Friday, Aug. 9, to discuss the matter further.
• Unanimously approved new county zoning designations for land that had previously been zoned by the city of Asheville. In April, the North Carolina General Assembly removed Asheville's authority to zone land just outside its municipal borders (known as Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, or ETJ). Commissioners directed staff to send notification letters to all property owners effected by the change.
• Voted 6-1 to deny a rezoning request to allow more development at a site along Cedar Mountain Rd. in Fairview. Commissioner Mike Fryar cast the lone vote in favor of granting the request.