Projected cost to build new E.E. Smith High School is giving some sticker shock

Monique John Image
Friday, March 10, 2023
Price tag of building new Fayetteville Smith HS raises some eyebrows
While most Cumberland County leaders agree that students at E.E. Smith High School need a new building, some are worried about the skyrocketing cost.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Efforts to relocate an aging high school are intensifying. While Cumberland County leaders and community stakeholders agree that students at E.E. Smith High School need a new building, some are worried about the skyrocketing cost.

County officials and E.E. Smith alum say the high school's deteriorating condition has made it necessary to rebuild and start over elsewhere.

"All of us agree that we need to do it. All of us agree that this project is long overdue..." said Dr. Toni Stewart, the chairwoman of the Cumberland County board of commissioners.

An E.E. Smith alum said a modern school is needed.

"The brick and mortar -- it's been there since the 50s," said Julian Brown. "We had issues with Wi-Fi strength, being strong in one side of the building and not. Air conditioning -- not the same because we've had patchwork. We've had asbestos problems.

"Right now, the direction that the economy is going, job opportunities are going, we definitely need to make sure we have a state-of-the-art high school," Brown continued. "And where we are now, that building is not designed for that type of opportunity for these kids," Brown said.

Before the pandemic, Cumberland County Schools estimated that constructing a new school would cost about $90 million. Now it says that number has nearly doubled to about $160 million. Some are saying it's better to build now:

"The longer we delay, I believe the higher the cost will be," said Glenn Adams, a commissioner on the Cumberland County board of commissioners.

However, the projected cost has given others pause:

"One hundred and sixty million is almost half of the budget for a capital improvement plan of 100 schools," said Commissioner Jimmy Keefe. "And all I'm just saying is it's going to affect a group of people, a small group of people that need a new school. And I want to deliver a new school to them. But we just can't discount the other 90% of students."

A statement from CCS about the project reads in part:

"The projected cost of the new high school aligns with what other districts are paying across the state...This process could take a couple of years and involves lots of communication between the school system and the local county government. Of course, we would seek their guidance and approvals along the way."

It's still to be determined when the budget for the school rebuild will be put before the board of commissioners for a vote. It will need at least four votes on the board of seven to pass.