If half of what High Point Central High School parents and supporters told Guilford County Board of Education members at a public forum at High Point Central on Thursday, Nov. 15 was true, the condition of the historic high school, built in 1926, is a galloping disgrace.
The people at the forum told school board members Ed Price, Carlvena Foster, Nancy Routh and Sandra Alexander that Central's library has room for only 22 of the school's 1,424 students; the cafeteria, which was completely renovated in 1993, is so tiny that most students can't eat there and are forced to bring food or leave campus to get lunch; and the bathrooms in the main building resemble bizarre science experiments gone wrong.
As often happens at such forums, the audience was made up mostly of parents of current or former Central students, graduates, current and former PTA presidents and longtime advocates for the school. Teachers and other current Central employees didn't show up, most likely for fear of losing their jobs for protesting the condition of the school.
The school board has been allowing High Point Central, like many other schools in Guilford County, to decay by degrees for years. High Point Central students, teachers and parents have been bearing it with as much grace as possible.
What has them enraged now is that, now that the school board's $72 million – originally planned at $88 million – airport area high school is almost certainly dead as a doornail, the Guilford Counties Facilities Department has come up with a $75 million list of upgrade and maintenance projects for the schools – and High Point Central, which has more maintenance and space problems than most, is not on the list.
All while, as one parent accused the school board members, "You've got Taj Mahals at Southwest and Ragsdale."
Andrea Cozart, who retired after years as a teacher and coach at Central, excoriated the school board members after hearing about High Point Central being left off the gravy train list. She said she visited Grimsley High School and found two new cafeterias, new walkways and fresh paving.
"And here we sit with nothing, and this is the flagship school in Guilford County," Cozart said. "This is the first million-dollar high school in the area. It was one of the top high schools in the South. I don't know where it is now."
According to those in the audience, who were clearly familiar with the current condition of the school from basement to roof, teachers are working in former closets, and the cafeteria is a joke.
Mysteriously, when the cafeteria was renovated in 1993, its capacity was reduced to 150, rather than increased. The "new" cafeteria is a split-level oddity with fences breaking up the room and reducing the table space.
One parent said, "Nothing has been built here since the '50s, which was the gym."
The night the High Point Central gym opened in the 1950s, the scoreboard collapsed during the first game – perhaps a bad omen. The school board, as one of the projects funded by voters with $457 million in school bonds in 1988, threw Central a bone in the form of a $5.3 million renovation of the gym – and that project turned into what school board Chairman Alan Duncan has called "a train wreck."
Two general contractors in a row haven't finished the project to renovate and expand the boys' varsity gym.
On Nov. 8, 2011, the school board voted unanimously to terminate its contract with Miles Builders of Charlotte, the main contractor on the High Point Central project. The bonding company on the project took over, in April 2012 hiring KMD Construction LLC of Salisbury. After delays under both contracts, the school board now says the earliest the gym, which was supposed to be finished for the 2011 basketball season, will be ready is January 2013, although few at High Point Central are holding their breath.
While grateful for the gym, the parents said they were most bothered by what they said were Central's crowded classrooms, unusable cafeteria and library, terrifying bathrooms, lack of work space for teachers, "floating teachers" who have no assigned classrooms and the presence of The Academy at Central, which is in the Tomlinson building on the High Point Central campus.
According to Guilford County Schools, there were 1,424 students enrolled at Central, excluding those at the academy, on the 20th day of classes this year. Central has a capacity of 1,360 – and, unlike at other Guilford County Schools, mobile classrooms cannot be used at Central because of its historic designation.
The strangest figure the parents and teachers provided was that the library at Central can only hold 22 students. They said that was because a third of the original library has been converted to classroom use and another third into office space for library staff.
"I don't know if we have a class of less than 25 or 30 students," Cozart said. "You can't even take your class in there. I don't know how High Point Central is accredited with a media center like that."
The Tomlinson building, the former Tomlinson Elementary School, has an odd history. During the 2005-2006 school year, it housed a freshman academy that gave ninth-grade students a year to adjust before being dumped in with the rest of the student body. The freshman academy was popular with parents.
In August 2006, School Superintendent Terry Grier, against opposition from parents and teachers, replaced the freshman academy with The Academy at Central, theoretically a college-prep academy whose curriculum included "culinary arts" – which Price at Thursday's forum derided as "cookie school." The Academy at Central now has a curriculum focused on health sciences.
People at Thursday's meeting, however, called on the school board members to eject The Academy at Central from the Tomlinson building.
"This school system needs to return Tomlinson to High Point Central," one woman said. "The academy there needs to be moved somewhere else. I don't know where. I see Andrews has a lot of space."
That touches on another touchy subject. Guilford County Schools, as a school system, is not all that crowded. Its most popular schools are, but others have free space. Andrews High School in High Point has a capacity of 1,260 students, not much less than Central, yet had only 762 students on the 20th day of classes, making it not much more than half full.
"The Central parents were afraid to speak when Terry Grier did away with the freshman academy," Price said. "That's the way it was under that superintendent. We don't have that now. It's a whole different world. People can speak up now and not be worried."
Well, no so much. Principals at Guilford County Schools still regularly say they are prohibited from talking about problems at schools with the press, the public and even school board members – and experience seems to back up that claim.
Calls to principals generally result in the principal calling the central office on North Eugene Street – and currently employed teachers don't even show up for meetings such as Thursday's. Department heads in the central office are more free to talk under the administration of current Superintendent Mo Green, but that freedom doesn't extend to schools.
Even Central Principal Bob Christina, who parents praised for improving the school despite its physical deficiencies, leaned against a wall and didn't say much at the meeting.
Former Central PTSA President Debbie Maines said that Grier discouraged complaints about the freshman academy and the condition of Central by signaling that he would fire popular former Principal Revonda Johnson.
"We were fearful for Revonda's job," said Maines, who said Grier treated Central like a "red-headed stepchild."
Maines said her son attended the freshman academy in its one year of existence, and that his math class had 28 students and only 22 chairs. "You know where the other students sat?" she said. "On the heater."
The school board will hold a hearing at Southwest Guilford High School on Wednesday, Nov. 28 to take input from the public on how the $75 million will be spent. Central supporters said they will be there in force.