Log in Newsletter


‘Our job is not to eliminate the legacy of E.E. Smith’: What school officials have to say about historic Fayetteville high school’s relocation


In its 96 years of existence, E.E. Smith High School has seen five different locations — and if some local officials have their say, it will soon see its sixth.

Tempers flared at last week’s Cumberland County Board of Education meeting when school system officials presented information on a proposed site for a new E.E. Smith at the current home of the Stryker Golf Course on Fort Liberty. School board members Carrie Sutton and Judy Musgrave clashed with Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr., noting concerns about relocating the school to federal property and fears of tarnishing the beloved school’s legacy. 

“We’re not saying this is the site,” Connelly responded. “We’re bringing back a report … All we’re doing is responding to the direction of the board, not to the direction of Dr. Connelly.” 

A sizable crowd of E.E. Smith alumni voiced their displeasure when the board ultimately voted 5-3 (member Susan Williams was not present) to forward the Stryker Golf Course site as a possibility to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, who will get the final say in where the new school goes. 

The controversy has led many to ask — what’s wrong with E.E. Smith in the first place?

‘Their building just isn’t set up to be successful’

Kevin Coleman, the school system’s associate superintendent of auxiliary services, told CityView on Thursday that the current E.E. Smith High School at 1800 Seabrook Road doesn’t meet students’ needs. 

“The [N.C.] Department of Public Instruction has recommendations for academic space profiles to be a 21st-century high school, and that school does not meet it,” he said. “The main portion of the building there was constructed in 1953 … that building served its needs for those students at that time. Fast-forward to 2024, and kids learn so much differently … The building is just not set up for that.” 

For a school that is a local and statewide leader in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — the existing E.E. Smith facility isn’t up to par, Coleman explained. 

“They do virtual reality, augmented reality, drone technology,” he said. “They have a fire academy there as well and there’s fire science. They have a wonderful program in cybersecurity. All of these things that they’re doing currently, their building just isn’t set up to be successful in those areas.” 

Issues with the Seabrook Road facility include:

  • Lack of space. E.E. Smith sits on 27 acres of land, while the state’s Dept. of Public Instruction recommends 70 to 100 acres of land for a high school, Coleman said. “They have negative effects on their athletic events and their extracurricular activities and space is limited,” he said. “For instance, they don’t have all the ball fields they need … their practice field is located … across the street at Ferguson-Easley [Elementary School].” 
  • According to a 2023 application for a $62 million state grant to fund the new site, the school’s “mechanical and electrical systems are aged, inadequate and inefficient.” 
  • “The facility does not meet current building code and ADA requirements,” the grant application states.
  • Exterior corridors are required to access some parts of the school, according to the grant application. 
  • Buses and automobiles must use the same driveway, the grant application states.
  • The Fayetteville Observer reported in May 2022 that one of the school’s hallways is so narrow, “students are only allowed to walk in one direction.” The school’s then-principal told the Observer that he worried “how the building would hold up in a tornado.” 

Why other sites didn’t work

Coleman said school officials were considering eight sites, but after an analysis by engineers hired by the school system, Stryker Golf Course emerged as the only viable site. It is not clear if the golf course would continue to operate if E.E. Smith moved there.

“We had them come in and identify any area that they could find within that area around Smith that a school could potentially be placed on,” he said. “Some of the land may have too much water on it. Some of the land might need too much remediation.” 

A site by Texas Lake near the intersection of Honeycutt Road and Parham Boulevard that the school board was considering last year had too much of a slope, Coleman said, noting that the seven possible sites that weren’t viable each had different issues. 

“Another thing that we look at is, what would be the proximity to local businesses?” he said. “For instance, if there’s an asphalt plant, like on Murchison Road. You don’t want to put a school across the street or next door to an asphalt plant that’s continuously banging around. You gotta look at surrounding areas. You gotta look at entryways, especially keeping in mind that a high school is full of brand-new drivers … You wanna make sure you got easy access in and out.” 

The Stryker Golf Course site fit those requirements, Coleman said. 

“We’ve provided that to our county commissioners as a finding of what our work has done, and we put it back to county commissioners for them to look at,” he said. “We’ve provided the Stryker Golf Course as the only viable solution that we have from the school system, and now it’s kind of up to them to discuss it on their end.” 

‘The legacy of E.E. Smith runs strong’

Coleman told CityView he wants to affirm to concerned alumni that the school system has a desire to protect EE Smith's legacy. E.E. Smith, a prominent historically Black school, was founded in 1927.

“The legacy of E.E. Smith runs strong and is something that we honor as a school system,” he said. “Our job is not to eliminate the legacy of E.E. Smith but is to continue to grow on it and to continue to make it better.” 

Coleman said he can assuage one common concern about the Stryker Golf Course site. 

“Fort Liberty has agreed to put the golf course outside of Fort Liberty,” he said. “The boundary for Fort Liberty will be moved so that the Stryker Golf Course area will be outside of the gates… You will not need to go through the area; you don’t need clearance to get into it. It’ll be outside of the gate and it’ll be accessed from outside the gate.”

Specifics for a lease with Fort Liberty are still in the works, Coleman said, but the goal would be a 50-year lease or something of similar length.

“It is a long-term lease,” he said. 

As school officials await feedback from county commissioners on the Stryker site and from the DPI on their grant application, Coleman said they are in a “holding pattern” but want community members to know they value E.E. Smith’s history.

“I think that is the biggest fear of people, that we’re trying to eliminate the good name of E.E. Smith and make it something completely different than it’s always been,” he said. “That’s not the case.” 

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

To keep CityView Today going and to grow our impact even more, we're asking our committed readers to consider becoming a member.

Take one minute to join now.

Cumberland County, schools, E.E. Smith High School, Fayetteville, Fort Liberty