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In an unexpected turn of events, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board, in considering where to put Knox Middle School students during construction, decided to pursue closure of Overton Elementary School.

The board has been working towards an upgrade of Knox for most of the calendar year. In last week’s meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann presented six options for placement of Knox students while the building is rehabbed — an estimated two-year project. 

Alternatives included:

  • Moving students to North Rowan High School, four miles away, and placing them in pods.
  • Relocating Overton Elementary School students to nearby schools and relocating Knox students to Overton. The Overton campus is adjacent to the Knox campus. This option would allow Knox students to continue to use their athletic fields and gym during construction.
  • Move Knox seventh and eighth graders to North Rowan High School and use vacant classrooms; move sixth graders to North Rowan Middle School. This option separates Knox staff and students so they are not all together.
  • Provide a temporary school pod on the Knox football field.
  • Relocate students to a temporary site such as the empty K-Mart building or part of the old mall. This option was predicted to incur significant cost and security issues.
  • Temporarily redistribute Knox students to existing middle schools with seats available. This option would eliminate Knox athletics and separate students from Knox staff.

After much discussion, the board eliminated all options except for relocating Overton students to other schools and relocating Knox students to other schools. 

One year ago, the district asked the board to consider closing some schools. With many schools predating the 1960s, maintenance bills continue to mount. Most elementary schools in the district are underpopulated. Across the district’s 34 schools, there are 2,500 empty seats. By comparison, Cabarrus County has the same number of school buildings, but twice the number of students. 

The district held several informational meetings for the community to communicate about the need to consolidate schools in Dec. 2018, but since that time, the board has taken no action to close any schools. One attempt to close Faith Elementary, built in 1929, was sandbagged after hundreds of community members stormed the school board in protest.   

All this came back to the table last week as the school board deliberated options for Knox. With Overton Elementary’s population at just over 300 students, board members asked: Why not redistribute them permanently? That opens Overton for housing Knox students temporarily — and then the building could be demolished. Overton was built in 1963 and features a central garden open to the sky, surrounded by glass walls. 

The board did not discuss how to work around other issues in the building, like child-sized toilets and no lockers. Knox Middle School is about 100,000 square feet, while Overton Elementary is about 50,000 square feet.

Of course, before a final decision can be made, the school board must hold public hearings. District Superintendent Lynn Moody asked if they were considering having a public hearing at the Nov. 18 meeting, but Board Chair Josh Wagner deferred it to the first of the year in consideration of the holidays.

Finally, a motion was made to redistribute Overton students to surrounding elementary schools and send Knox students to Overton for the duration of construction. Overton could be closed after that time.

The vote was 6 aye and 1 nay, with Salisbury representative Alysha Byrd-Clark dissenting. Byrd-Clark later said she knew her nay vote would not make a difference in the outcome, but she voted her conscience.

Maggie Blackwell

Maggie Blackwell is a freelance writer and former City Councilwoman in Salisbury, North Carolina. She started writing on her Tom Thumb typewriter at age eight and now spends her retirement playing with her grandchildren.