Freshly cleared and still surrounded by pine trees, the site of the new Aberdeen elementary school looks like little more than a 20-acre sandy expanse. But school officials, parents, students and community leaders got a glimpse of the future there on Tuesday as the schools ceremonially broke ground on the new school slated to open in August 2020.
That groundbreaking was the second Moore County Schools celebrated this year and the first funded by general obligation bonds passed by nearly 80 percent of voters in the May primary election.
The new school will replace the existing Aberdeen Primary and Aberdeen elementary, which now serve grades K-2 and 3-5 separately. Like the old schools, the new elementary campus will also serve students from Pinebluff.
Replacing those aged campuses, which both date from 1949, has long been a priority for the Moore County Board of Education. The school board purchased the new Aberdeen elementary site, just south of N.C. 5 on Aberdeen’s southwestern limit, for $180,000 in 2015.
More than three years later, students on Tuesday from both the existing schools held up banners with messages of gratitude as they saw their future campus for the first time.
“We are excited to be here to welcome these current Aberdeen Primary and Elementary school students to the site of their future school and home, and we are looking forward to watching them grow as they learn in the new, state-of-the-art facility,” said Dante Poole, currently principal of Aberdeen Elementary, standing alongside Aberdeen Primary Principal Mollie Capps and assistant principals Darryl Jackson and Lacey Miller.
“We stand here together, because we have believed together that our children and families of the Aberdeen school community are far better than a state school report card or test results.”
The school board recently named Poole principal of the new school when it opens. In 2019, when Capps becomes principal of the school now under construction on Camp Easter Road, Jackson will take over as principal of Aberdeen Primary until 2020.
The J.M. Thompson Company of Cary is building both schools, and was the lowest of six bidders for the Aberdeen project by a narrow margin. The school board awarded the $27.1 million construction contract for the Aberdeen school in August.
Combined, the two Aberdeen schools now serve some 600 students. The new school, situated among 250 surrounding acres primed for residential development, is designed to serve 800 children and cost $270,000 per year less to operate than the current two.
“This new school will replace old schools that are outdated, that are unsafe, that were built 70 years plus ago,” said Aberdeen Mayor Robbie Farrell, a retired educator who himself graduated from high school on the current Aberdeen Elementary campus when it served grades 1-12.
“I want to thank the school board, the superintendent and the county commissioners for finally stepping up and doing the right thing to build this school for the Aberdeen district. This is beginning to address the school facilities needs of our county, and the opening of this new campus will start a long trip to getting all of our schools into the 21st century.”
Unlike the existing schools, which comprise separate buildings constructed between the 1950s and 1990s, the new Aberdeen school will be a single building with one controlled entrance.
Designs for the 114,000-square-foot school involve an “E”-shaped floor plan with common areas like the cafeteria, hybrid gymnasium and auditorium, and project rooms along the spine. The classrooms are arranged along three wings extending out from those core facilities: one wing each for pre-kindergarten through first grade, grades two and three, and fourth and fifth grade.
The $30.8 million total turnkey budget for the Aberdeen school figured into the $103 million bond package passed earlier this year. Those bonds will also fund the construction of new K-5 schools in Southern Pines and Pinehurst.
Moore County Schools started the facilities planning process that identified the need for the four new elementary schools and more — including expansions at all three high schools and a third middle school in the Pinecrest attendance area — in 2013.
So the series of groundbreakings that began on Camp Easter Road in March and that’s expected to continue in February with Southern Pines and next summer with Pinehurst and an expansion at North Moore has been a long time coming for many who have been involved with the process.
“We want to take a moment to recognize the Moore County Board of Commissioners,” said school board Chair Helena Wallin-Miller. “I want to thank you for literally walking with us and joining us on this journey to look at what our community needs are, what the kids’ needs are, and what our schools need and what our kids deserve. You all have helped make this happen.”
The county commissioners agreed last year to fund the Camp Easter Road school, to relieve crowding at Sandhills Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview, through private financing and are pursuing the same option for the North Moore expansion.
But the bond referendum earlier this year was a test of public support for the schools and their building priorities. So was the quarter-cent local sales tax increase, which passed by 59 percent of the vote on the November ballot. Revenue from the tax increase, which is expected to go into effect April 1, will help repay the bond debt.
As Moore County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Catherine Graham summed it up, alluding to remarks by the chief engineer of the recent Mars rover landing, “it all worked out in our favor.”
“The most important part of it is, I think — and I hope the kids grasp this at some point — is that government in our country and our state and our county is of the people, by the people, for the people. What has happened here is a perfect example,” she said. “It’s an amazing day for our county. It’s an amazing day for Aberdeen, our kids and our future kids.”
Wallin-Miller recognized the parents who volunteered with the bond campaign, many of whom were on hand Tuesday to celebrate the first tangible result of their efforts.
“I just want to introduce the community to these fantastic women, who come from all walks of life,” she said. “They spent thousands of hours of talking to people about why safety and security were important, why 21st century learning communities were important, why we needed to make sure that the buildings represent the best Moore County has to offer so that we can preserve a vibrant local economy.”
As the school’s future principal, Poole said that the prospect of a modern school building is a “dream come true,” and represents an ideal that he and the rest of the Aberdeen teachers and school staff intend to live up to.
“We’re responsible for leaving these young lives better than we found them, for giving them a higher place to begin that is much further along than the places we began, and for remembering that the work and the investments that we make today are not trophies for us to brag about, but opportunities for people we may never meet to build great lives in this community.”