Central superintendent presents plans for campus

After months of speculation, Superintendent Michael Faulk last week laid out his ideas on what the Central school system should do with 29 acres at 11526 Sullivan Road, which for decades served as the home of Central Middle School.

Faulk’s plans, however, are a far cry from the many ideas presented in recent months by city residents about what to do with the vacant property. These suggestions range from using the property for a new city center and a commercial strip to adding a sports complex, a museum and a new high school.

The middle school, at the corner of Sullivan and Hooper roads, is at the heart of a city without a central hub, a city that incorporated only eight years ago.

The closest Faulk comes to backing many of the lofty suggestions made by others is his own offer to make part of the 61-year-old building available as office space for local government agencies, serving as a sort of city hall.

It’s not clear, though, whether Central city government will go along with that idea. Faulk presented the idea to the City Council on Tuesday night, but no one asked questions or offered feedback, he said.

David Barrow, Central’s chief administrative officer, said the former middle school is one of seven locations that Central is looking at to serve as a site for a possible city center. Barrow said the goal is to have a mix of municipal, community, commercial and residential use that would sit on a large tract of land with room to expand, perhaps 60 to 75 acres.

The city is using part of a community development block grant to plan the new city center and a planning team is set to make recommendations by the end of June.

One problem the city would face if it leased space in the former Central Middle School, Barrow said, involves loss of the use of about $1.7 million in state capital outlay funding previously approved by the state Legislature for a new city hall.

That funding can be used only for new construction, not for renovations, he said.

Barrow said the city might be able to use vacant land on the former Central Middle campus for a new city hall, though.

“That’s an option that hasn’t been discussed,” Barrow said.

Faulk is proposing to spend $5 million to tear down six of the nine buildings on the former Central Middle campus and fix up the exteriors of the three remaining buildings. In addition to setting aside space for leasing to other government agencies, the three buildings left would have enough room to house the school district’s central office staff and establish a small alternative school and a professional development center, he said.

The proposal is one of four ballot propositions that Faulk is planning to place before voters in the Nov. 16 elections. The other three propositions would pay for a new ninth-grade academy on the campus of Central High, increase pay for teachers and other personnel and increase Internet capacity and technology at all campuses.

A total of $16 million worth of new spending for the new technology, the ninth-grade academy and the renovations to the former Central Middle School would come from preserving in full a 23.65-mill tax that voters approved in 2009 to fund school construction.

The proposed pay raises, ranging from $500 to $1,500 a year per employee, would be paid for by a newly proposed, 6-mill property tax that would generate about $6 million a year for 10 years, if voters approve.

Faulk said he plans to shop the ideas around during the next two months and have the Central School Board vote on them in June.

The current Central Middle was built in 1949, with portions of the campus dating back to the 1920s.

The middle school relocated in August to its new home, joining Central Intermediate School as part of $46 million, 88-acre complex.

Faulk said he has ruled out one idea for the former middle school: Turning it into a sports complex.

“It’s too expensive,” he said.

Instead, he is proposing adding lights to the existing playing fields at Central High School to make night games possible. That money would be part of the $8.5 million he is proposing to spend on building the new ninth-grade academy at the high school.