More than half a billion dollars in bonds will be handed out to County Durham voters this fall, including money to relocate Durham School of the Arts, and residents can weigh in for the first time on Monday.
DSA opened in 1995 in one of Bull City’s oldest school buildings. It is a magnetic school, which means that students must apply through a lottery system. Middle and high school have 1,835 students who can choose concentrations like film, visual arts, piano, dance, and creative writing.
The school’s brick campus spans nearly 17 acres on the outskirts of downtown, sandwiched between North Duke and North Gregson streets, with nowhere to grow. Last year, a consultant told the Board of Education that the campus was unsafe, had outdated classrooms and blocked traffic at pick-up and drop-off times.
More than a decade ago, the school system paid $4.1 million for 57 acres on Duke Homestead Road, according to land records. The property is approximately 3.5 miles, on the north side of Interstate 85. If approved, the new campus could open in fall 2025.
At a cost of $108.7 million, the DSA relocation is the costliest project voters are being asked to raise their property taxes for this fall.
The Durham County Board of Commissioners has advanced the $550.2 million in bonds since the fall. Three referendums will be submitted to voters in November:
- $423.5 million for Durham Public Schools
- $112.7 million for Durham Technical Community College
- $14 million for the Museum of Life and Science
According to current projections, an increase in the tax rate of 2.5 cents per $100 of estimated property value would be necessary to raise the necessary funds. For a $400,000 home, slightly below the current median, annual tax bills would increase by $100.
What would money buy
The largest share of cash — $423,505,000 – would go to construction at Durham Public Schools, helping the school system accommodate a growing population, relocate an aging magnet school, adapt to state mandates on class sizes and pre-K opportunities , and to modernize with sustainability in mind.
Here’s how DPS funding is distributed among construction projects:
- $108.7 million: Construction of a new Durham School of the Arts campus in North Durham, with a tentative opening in 2025.
- $60.1 million: Construction of a new elementary school in the Hope Valley area by next fall
- $28.9 million: Glenn Elementary School Renovations
- $32.9 million: Holt Elementary Renovations
- $26.2 million: EK Powe Elementary School renovations
- $21.3 million: Pearsontown Elementary school renovations
- $18.9 million: Bethesda Elementary Renovations
- $17.9 million: renovations to Hope Valley Elementary School
- $15.4 million: Lakewood Elementary School Renovations
- $15.3 million: Morehead Elementary School Renovations
- $13.1 million: Oak Grove Elementary Renovations
- $12.7 million: Eastway Elementary renovations
- $12.6 million: Fayetteville Street Elementary renovations
- $12.5 million: Parkwood Elementary Renovations
- $12.5 million: Elementary Club Renovations
- $8.5 million: District-wide kitchen upgrades
- $6 million: Mangum Elementary School Renovations
Durham Tech’s goals largely focus on expanding and modernizing its healthcare and life sciences facilities.
“Health facilities in our region are facing significant shortages of key personnel, including physician assistants, nursing assistants, nurses, pharmacy technicians, etc. They cannot adequately staff these positions without Durham Tech contributing to this jobs pipeline,” the staff wrote in the budget documents.
Here’s how the college plans would spend its $112,736,600:
- The largest chunk of $74 million would be used to construct an 86,000 square foot building for all Allied Health Programs to inhabit. This includes nursing, dental hygiene and more. Some of the money would be used to build a pathway for pedestrians to cross East Lawson Street.
- Another $35.2 million would go towards a 35,280 square foot building for life sciences and biotechnology programs.
- Then there’s $3.5 million for the college to purchase land on Bacon and Cooper streets surrounding the main campus.
The Museum of Life and Science asks $13,990,768 and has some major improvements planned:
- $7.5 million is planned to redo the main building to “address more directly the critical issues of climate change, technological innovation and health sciences”. This includes a reimagining of the weather and math exhibits on the first floor, as well as a replacement for the health exhibit and classroom on the second floor. The TinkerLab will be moved upstairs.
- The museum would use $5.8 million for various renovations and expansions, primarily targeting the main building’s assembly hall and the Sprout Cafe. A food truck hookup and restrooms would be constructed on the north side of the complex, near the bear, wolf, and lemur exhibits.
- $720,000 will help the museum reduce its carbon footprint by adopting photovoltaic equipment in the butterfly greenhouse and maintenance warehouse. They will also transition to “dark sky lighting” in the field, helping to reduce light pollution by directing light beams down to the ground.
How to attend the public hearing
The first public bond hearing will take place at the Council of Commissioners meeting on Monday evening.
It begins at 7 on the second floor of the County Administration Building, 200 E. Main St., Durham, NC 27701.
Can’t be there? Email [email protected] by 2 p.m. Sunday to have written comments read into the record. Stream the meeting online by visiting the county’s YouTube channel.
This story was originally published July 8, 2022 1:21 p.m.