(To close out the year, we’re counting off five of our most-read stories from 2018. Here’s number four. Read number five here, and number three here.)

The W.B. Wicker School project is on schedule for opening in the fall. Photo courtesy of Lee County Schools.

After months of political wrangling, Lee County Schools broke ground on the W.B. Wicker School project in May, and seven months later announced that the process of creating new student assignments was under way.

The campus, which was originally known as the Lee County Training School and was renamed for educator W.B. Wicker in the 1950s, first opened on South Vance Street in 1929 and was one of the historic Julius Rosenwald schools which were built across the south for black Americans in the early 20th century. According to Wikipedia, it served in that function until 1969 and continued hosting now-integrated classes until the 1980s. The school was renovated in the mid 2000s for use by Central Carolina Community College as a business campus.

Wicker’s selection in November 2015 as the site for Lee County’s eighth elementary school had been controversial to some local Republicans, who have said that the amount of crime in the area – including a rape which occurred on the campus more than 30 years ago – makes the site unfit for a school. Jim Womack, chairman of the local GOP, called the neighborhood a “known threat” in a CBS 17 piece from March, but the Sanford Herald reported (link no longer available) around the same time that there was only a small amount of criminal activity in the area and quoted several residents as saying the school would be a positive for the neighborhood. Additionally, proponents of the school argued that its placement could also serve as an economic development tool for the area.

Meanwhile, the project has moved forward at a rapid pace. The new elementary school – Lee County’s first since 1998 – will be offer a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) curriculum to nearly 1,000 students, making it essentially a “school and a half,” aimed at alleviating overcrowding elsewhere in the county. About 700 of those students will be assigned to the school on the basis of redistricting, while another 200-plus will attend after applying and being selected in a random lottery.

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