The Wrightsville Beach Board of Adjustment approved a flood plain variance for two of the three trailers the New Hanover County Board of Education requested to place behind the seven other trailers at the Wrightsville Beach School campus this summer.
Before that decision, Eddie Anderson, director of facilities and planning for New Hanover County Schools, said the three trailers requested would accommodate the two fifth grade classes currently using Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church and the additional 25-30 students that are predicted to attend WBS next school year.
As background, planning and parks director Tony Wilson presented a timeline, saying the first trailer was added to WBS in 1980 with a restriction that it remain only one year, and is still on campus. Three more trailers were added to the site in 1996, one more in 2000 and two more in 2005.
As outlined in the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, the new trailers would be located in a coastal high hazard area zone and the structures would have to be raised 17 feet above the ground. Anderson said the amount of ramps or stairs required would be cost prohibitive, so the school board requested a variance of 10.5 feet.
Allowing the variance for these structures could result in a negative impact on the town’s Federal Emergency Management Agency rating, Wilson said, which directly relates to the flood insurance rates Wrightsville residents pay. The town’s current score is Class 8. Wilson said he would be more confident that the town could remain at that level or better if the board put a time restriction or some other condition on the new trailers.
Although adding conditions to the trailers would help the town, Anderson said the school board would be less likely to spend the $300,000 required to purchase and install the three trailers. Limiting the number of additional trailers to one or two, or limiting the number of years they could be used would serve to speed up NHCS’s redistricting process, Anderson said.
As reflected at the board of education’s retreat the day before, Anderson said it appeared that there was not a major redistricting scheduled for another six to eight years. At that time, Anderson said a new elementary school in Porters Neck would be built, and Blair and College Park elementary schools would be renovated. (See related story page 1.)
In the draft of the school board’s facility needs survey, WBS ranked 14th on the priority list for renovations.
Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti and the other members of the board of adjustment stated that long-term solutions would fix the issue of overcrowding at WBS, not temporary fixes like adding trailers every few years. The board of adjustment was also concerned and perplexed as to why WBS was so far down the priority list since, with the addition of the two new trailers, almost half the study body would attend class in a trailer.
“My biggest concern is a long-range plan. I feel like Wrightsville Beach is on the backseat on this thing; I feel like our needs are every bit as much as College Park,” Cignotti said. “We all want our school to stay here and we want to see it thrive, but I don’t think continuing to add trailers is going to make it a better learning environment.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson blamed the presence of the trailers for WBS being so low on the priority list.
“My concern about trailers has always been that it is the temporary solution that becomes permanent because it is convenient,” Sisson said. “With adding trailers it is easy to say, ‘Well, they have space so we are going to focus our attention over here on Blair or College Park.’”
To help the school board in the short term and to spur it to develop a permanent solution for WBS, the board of adjustment approved the flood plain variance for the two new trailers for three years. The school board and NHCS will have until July 1, 2016, to develop a solution or request to keep the new trailers. The trailers would have to be removed by Oct. 1, 2016, if no solution is reached.