The Chapel Hill Town Council approved plans for a new pre-K and high school campus on South Merritt Mill Road at the site of the historic Lincoln Center on March 13.
The site will feature a two-story building housing all pre-K classes on the first floor and new district offices on the second floor, said Jeff Nash, a spokesperson for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Nash said the project has a total price tag of $25 million.
“That, we think, is going to be a wonderful way to provide a better service to all of our pre-K students,” Nash said. “Instead of having various people — physical therapist, occupational therapist, social workers, etcetera — going from school to school, we are going to be able to serve the kids in one spot.”
Nash said by consolidating all pre-K classes into one location, more space will be freed up in elementary schools. The increased capacity will prevent the need to build a new elementary school in the near future.
In addition to the new pre-K building, Phoenix Academy, the district’s alternative school, will also have a new building able to hold more than 100 students. Thirty-five to 40 students currently attend Phoenix Academy.
The current building on the site, the historic Lincoln Center, will be torn down. Lincoln High School served as Chapel Hill’s high school for black students until the integrated Chapel Hill High School opened in 1966.
The district has worked with Lincoln High School alumni throughout the process. Nash said they have been supportive of the plans and hope the space will once again be used as a center for learning.
“When we told them the plans for the pre-K, they were just delighted,” he said. “They just loved that.”
Nash said the historic gym will remain and will be refurbished. Part of the new pre-K building that also houses administrative offices will feature a museum dedicated to black education in Orange County.
“[The alumni] have a lot of memorabilia from back in the day, the trophies and pictures and just neat stuff that they have saved over the years,” Nash said. “So they are going to help with the collection and what is displayed.”
Nash said the museum would be open to the public.
Kay Pearlstein, senior planner for the Chapel Hill Planning Department, presented the plan to the town council.
Pearlstein said the reaction to the plan was positive. The town council approved it 6-1, she said.
She said the plan has been in the works since November 2015 and it usually takes a year and a half to complete the approval process. Since the town approved a bond, the school system has been proposing additions and smaller projects for many schools.
“It's good they got this one approved when they did,” Pearlstein said.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell had some concerns with the project when it was first presented to the council. However, Bell said the school system made a compelling case for the project.
“I think there were some concerns raised about making sure that this was a project that truly served our community in a way that we feel is consistent,” Bell said. “I think they made that case and so we approved it.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.