Local residents and school district employees appeared before the Chapel Hill Town Council earlier in the week to discuss the proposed redevelopment of the Lincoln Center.
Kerry Moore, the director of preschool programs for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, steered the discussion toward plans to establish a centralized preschool on the campus.
“If we were to have an unlimited budget, we could outfit all of our classrooms and all of our schools and include the pre-K classrooms in our elementary schools,” she mused. “At this point, that’s not the case, and that’s why we’re looking towards consolidation.”
Moore explained that adding dedicated preschool classrooms to the center would minimize the need for the trailers that are currently in use by the district for that purpose.
“When we think about our students who are in mobile classrooms, we want to make sure their safety is priority,” she stressed. “Being in a mobile classroom — that doesn’t match that statement.”
The effect that those plans would have on local traffic led Council Member Sally Greene to reconsider her vote for a special use land permit that must be approved for redevelopment to occur.
“My vote in favor of a rezoning might not necessarily mean a vote in favor of the [special use land permit] because I still have great concerns about the parking,” she admitted.
Rani Dasi, the vice chair of the district school board, noted that financial constraints may limit the ways in which the parking dispute surrounding the center could be settled.
“We are significantly financially constrained, so if we had all the money in the world, we’d do something maybe a little bit differently,” she offered. “We really are asking for some collaboration with the town on some of these areas.
The center courted controversy from 1950 to 1966 as an all-black high school before reverting to an administrative facility under the ownership of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
In addition to serving as the current headquarters for the district, the center houses Phoenix Academy, an alternative high school that supports students who require a more personalized education.
Council Member Maria Palmer expressed concern over housing Phoenix Academy and a district preschool under one roof while claiming that local high schools may be dangerous.
“I don’t think you could put a preschool magnet program at East Chapel Hill High School and say that it would be really healthy,” she emphasized. “I have been at East [Chapel Hill High School], where my daughter graduated from, and it wasn’t healthy for me to walk across the parking lot.”
Those comments were refuted by Council Member Jessica Anderson, who countered that high schoolers and preschoolers may benefit from interacting with each other in an educational facility.
“I think we are sending a message with some of our comments about the appropriateness of high school students being near younger students,” she stated. “I can think of no better marriage between high school students, regardless of where they go or who they are.”
Comments from Palmer on how redevelopment plans may promote racial segregation in Chapel Hill were also addressed by Dave Mason, the president of the Lincoln Alumni Association.
“One of your council members indicated that they thought this would be resegregation, and when I looked at the demographics in terms of the composition of the students that are going to be there, I was just completely baffled,” he declared. “I tried to reach out to Mrs. Palmer because I wanted her to explain to me how this could possibly be resegregation.”
The council approved motions to rezone land for the expansion and affirm its adherence to the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan, with the only dissenting votes being made by Palmer.
A subsequent public hearing on the special use land permit for the center is expected to take place on March 13 as the redevelopment approval process continues.
Render provided by Town of Chapel Hill.