More than half a billion dollars in bonds will be put to Durham County voters this fall, including money to move the Durham School of the Arts, and residents can weigh in for the first time on Monday.
DSA opened in 1995 in one of the oldest school buildings in the Bull City. It’s a magnet school, meaning students must apply through a lottery system. The middle and high school has 1,835 students that can select concentrations like film, visual arts, piano, dance and creative writing.
The school’s brick campus is on nearly 17 acres on the edge of downtown, sandwiched between North Duke and North Gregson streets with nowhere to grow. A consultant told the Board of Education last year the campus was unsafe, had outdated classrooms and tied up traffic at pickup and drop-off times.
Over a decade ago, the school system paid $4.1 million for 57 acres on Duke Homestead Road, land records show. The property is about 3.5 miles away, on the north side of Interstate 85. If approved, the new campus could open in fall 2025.
At a cost of $108.7 million, DSA’s relocation is the priciest project for which voters are being asked to raise their property taxes this fall.
The Durham County Board of Commissioners has been advancing the $550.2 million in bonds since the fall. Three referendums will go 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
Under current projections, a tax rate increase of 2.5 cent per $100 of assessed property value would be required to raise the money needed. For a $400,000 house, slightly below the current median, annual tax bills would go up $100.
What the money would buy
The biggest share of cash — $423,505,000 — would go to construction at Durham Public Schools, helping the school system accommodate a swelling population, relocate an aging magnet school, adjust to state mandates on class size and pre-K opportunities, and modernize with sustainability in mind.
Here’s how the DPS funding shakes out among construction projects:
- $108.7 million: Building a new Durham School of the Arts campus in northern Durham, with a tentative opening in 2025.
- $60.1 million: Building a new elementary school in the Hope Valley area by next fall
- $28.9 million: Glenn Elementary renovations
- $32.9 million: Holt Elementary renovations
- $26.2 million: E.K. Powe Elementary renovations
- $21.3 million: Pearsontown Elementary renovations
- $18.9 million: Bethesda Elementary renovations
- $17.9 million: Hope Valley Elementary renovations
- $15.4 million: Lakewood Elementary renovations
- $15.3 million: Morehead Elementary 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: Club Elementary renovations
- $8.5 million: Upgrades to kitchens districtwide
- $6 million: Mangum Elementary renovations
Durham Tech’s goals largely center on expanding and modernizing its healthcare and life sciences facilities.
“The healthcare facilities in our region face significant shortages in key personnel including medical assistants, nursing assistants, nurses, pharmacy technicians, etc. They cannot adequately staff these positions without Durham Tech contributing to that employment pipeline,” staff wrote in budget documents.
Here’s how the college plans would spend its $112,736,600:
- The biggest chunk of $74 million would be used to build an 86,000-square-foot building for all the Allied Health Programs could inhabit. This includes nursing, dental hygiene and more. Part of the money would pay for a path for pedestrians to cross East Lawson Street.
- Another $35.2 million would go toward a 35,280-square-foot building for life sciences and biotechnology programs.
- Then, there’s $3.5 million so the college could buy land on Bacon and Cooper streets surrounding the main campus.
The Museum of Life and Science is asking for $13,990,768 and has some major upgrades planned:
- $7.5 million is marked to redo the main building to “deal more directly with critical issues of climate change, technological innovation and health science.” That includes a reimagining of the weather and mathematics exhibits on the first floor, plus a replacement of 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, mostly targeting the meeting room in the main building and the Sprout Cafe. A food truck hook-up and restrooms would be built on the north side of the complex, near the exhibits of bears, wolves and lemurs.
- $720,000 will help the museum reduce its carbon footprint by switching to photovoltaic equipment in the butterfly house and maintenance warehouse. They’ll also upgrade to “dark sky lighting” on the grounds, helping reduce light pollution by directing beams of lights toward the ground.
How to attend the public hearing
The first public hearing on the bonds will take place during the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night.
It starts at 7 in the second floor of the county administration building, 200 E. Main St., Durham, N.C. 27701.
This story was originally published July 8, 2022 1:21 PM.