Members of Wake County's new school board majority are criticizing a report that found that pulling the plug on the controversial Forest Ridge High School site in northeast Raleigh would cost money and time.
A broad-based team of experts laid out reasons to school board members and county commissioners last week why it would be better to stick with Forest Ridge, located on Forestville Road near U.S. 401.
But members of the board majority, who stopped work on Forest Ridge last month, questioned how the group came up with its findings, saying the alternatives sites may not be so expensive.
"It's time to move off (Forest Ridge), and yet they continue to push for it," said school board member Chris Malone, whose district includes the Forest Ridge site.
Malone's thoughts were echoed by other new school board members who were elected last fall. One of the first actions of the new majority after taking office last month was to halt the Forest Ridge project, which they had criticized for wasteful spending during the campaign.
"I just think we can do better," board member Debra Goldman said later.
The new board members had complained the off-site improvements, including road work and water and sewer lines, would cost $7.5 million, far higher than the $1.6 million budgeted for it.
"If I was picking a site today, it would not be Forest Ridge," school board member John Tedesco said later.
Wake has been planning to build Forest Ridge High to keep up with growth in the northeastern part of the county. The school is scheduled to open in August 2012.
Administrators said they haven't determined when Forest Ridge would open if the work is resumed. They had previously warned that even a two-week delay could push the opening to 2013.
Neighbors of Forest Ridge complained about traffic issues and a possible slave cemetery on the site.
A review group of municipal, county, state and school staff was formed to compare Forest Ridge to five other sites, including a late addition suggested by Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles.
The five alternative sites reviewed are:
Property near Ligon Mill and Taylors Ridge roads in Raleigh.
A parcel near Louisbury and Mitchell Mill roads in Raleigh.
A tract Eagles suggested on U.S. 401 near Louisbury Road in Rolesville.
A parcel near Catlett Farm and Rolesville roads in Rolesville.
A tract Eagles suggested near Rolesville and Quarry roads in Rolesville.
The group estimated that the total projected infrastructure and land costs for Forest Ridge High were the lowest at $20.6 million. The other sites ranged from $22.2 million to $23.3 million.
The group found that shifting to a different site would push back the opening of the school by a year or two. That delay, according to Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers, a member of the group, runs the risk of raising future construction costs and leading to potential overcrowding in other high schools.
Rogers said the concerns of at least some neighbors of Forest Ridge could be eased because the plan now is to not route traffic through the Chesterfield Village subdivision.
School board member Kevin Hill said he supported continuing with Forest Ridge, because of the advantages laid out by the review panel and the potential downside of changing sites.
"Even if all sites were a wash, we'd save the one, two, or three years in delay," Hill said.
But members of the school board majority said that the group had made errors in evaluating the cost of the sites Eagles suggested.
For instance, they said the group had overlooked the existence of a sewer line on the Quarry Road property that would cut costs by $1.5 million.