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A price for pride

South Boston News / May 17, 2018
The Halifax County School Board voiced support for building an $8.89 million replacement for outdated Tuck Dillard Stadium, but they split on the best way to move forward with the project at their meeting Monday night in South Boston.

After hearing Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg offer what School Board chair Joe Gasperini called a “tremendous presentation” on the proposed facility, trustees debated whether to commit immediately to funding roughly a quarter share of the cost, or wait first to see how a new stadium fits together with an even larger project — renovation or reconstruction of Halifax County High School.

“I’m in favor of doing something about the stadium,” said ED-8 trustee Walter Potts, who ultimately prevailed with a request to have the School Board wait before making an upfront financial commitment. “If you’re not familiar with the ‘Halifax rule,’ that’s why we don’t get anything over there [Tuck Dillard Stadium] any more.”

It was a reference to the 1991 championship season of the HCHS “Wrecking Crew” football team, which brought the state title to Halifax County — and also prompted a Virginia High School League requirement on the types of sporting facilities that could host future VSHL championship events. Lineburg alluded to the long-ago backlash over the condition of Tuck Dillard Stadium to argue for moving forward with the project now.

“There’s something about pride — your school pride, pride in what you have — a sense of pride for the community [that] is something you can’t put a price tag on,” he said. Lineburg added, “If we kick the can down the road for four more years, it’s going to be $12 million.”

But while Potts said he agreed with the need to build a new stadium, he balked at a proposal by Gasperini to put the School Board on record in support of a 10-year, $200,000 annual commitment towards the capital expenditure. Gasperini said such a pledge by the School Board would be necessary to attract outside dollars for the project — from business sponsors, community groups and individuals, and public entities other than the School Board and Board of Supervisors, including the Towns of Halifax and South Boston and the Industrial Development Authority.

“When you add those up and the community comes together, I think we might be pleasantly surprised by the amount of money we raise,” said Gasperini. “But first, the School Board has to step up.”

Potts and ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman voiced skepticism, however, that outside funding for the stadium would be so readily available, and they both expressed concern over the possible impact of a $200,000 annual commitment on the schools’ instructional budget. “I’ve lived here for 25 years and you start talking money around here…” said Garner-Coleman, shaking her head. “We’ve had problems getting our academic programs funded.”

Freddie Edmunds, ED-5, chimed in, “We definitely need a new stadium, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. But you’ve got to ask a lot of questions before you spend $8.9 million.”

Potts suggested that a new stadium should be folded into a voter referendum to build a new high school — an undertaking that could cost $80 million, he said. But that idea drew a retort from Gasperini: “I think doing nothing [now], and having it as part of an overall school project, is a mistake.”

Potts also objected to taking any vote to commit the School Board financially to the project after only that evening seeing the artist’s renderings and hearing about the stadium design for the first time from Lineburg: “None of us here have talked about this,” said Potts. “How can I say we’re going to do that [build the stadium?] I don’t even know what it is.”

On a motion by ED-1 trustee Orey Hill, trustees voted unanimously to direct Lineburg to compile more information, including possible sources of stadium funding, and bring his findings back for a School Board work session on June 25 for further discussion.

Lineburg used a PowerPoint presentation to highlight the facility’s design. The stadium plan has been developed by Moseley Architects, the firm that also is conducting a full-scale facilities study for county schools. As envisioned, the new stadium would seat 4,000, up from the current 3,000-person capacity of Tuck Dillard, with an artificial turf field that could accommodate up to 250 events per year.

Lineburg said the replacement would serve as “a county stadium,” available for use by youth league and sporting programs including football and travel soccer. It could also be a venue for concerts, festivals, band competitions and various other uses. Among other benefits, the new stadium could help foster economic development and increase tourism and visitation in Halifax County, the superintendent argued.

By contrast, Tuck Dillard Stadium is crumbling with age and was wrongly designed when it was built in the mid-1960s. Lineburg noted the overhead press box is in especially poor condition — in an accompanying video presentation by HCHS students, one likened the press box to a “singlewide” floating over the stadium and called it “nasty.”

The poor state of Tuck Dillard Stadium “is a long-term problem and source of community discontent,” said Lineburg.

The meeting of the School Board took place at South Boston Elementary, the latest of the county schools to host monthly trustees meetings.

HCMS gains assistant principal; trustees mull psychologist

Other School Board meeting highlights:

» Melanie Hastings, an assistant principal at Dan River High School in Pittsylvania County, has accepted a position as assistant principal at Halifax County Middle School. A Halifax County resident, Hastings will begin her new job starting in the 2018-19 school year.

» Trustees will consider whether to hire a school psychologist after hearing a plea by trustee Walter Potts for trained professionals to help “kids who are used and abused right here in Halifax County.”

Citing woes such a teen suicides and mass shootings, Potts argued that Halifax County has not adequately responded with help for teens who dealing with severe mental and emotional stresses, and school counselors are neither trained nor empowered to deal with such problems. A school psychologist would be, he said.

“We need to provide for the mental health of our kids. Counselors can’t do it all,” he said. Acknowledging that having a psychologist on staff will be costly, Potts said the need is great enough to justify the expense: “We need some special folk here. We need special folk for math and English and reading [instruction.] But we also need some special folk on the mental side.”

“There’s a need for a person like that at every school,” agreed Board chair Joe Gasperini, who suggested starting with a staff psychologist at the middle school.

Trustees will study the matter further for possible future action.

» The high school will add two Advanced Placement courses next year: 11th grade AP Humanities and 12th grade AP American history.

» All county students will be issued Chromebooks for learning purposes in the 2018-19 school year, according to technology and testing director Jeanie Hawks. There are 3,300 Chromebooks currently in use in the system, nearly completing the objective of giving each student a device for school use. The Chromebook program was begun in 2016.

All elementary and middle school students currently enjoy use of the slimmed-down laptop devices, which run free Google applications. The “one-to-one” device program will be completed with the addition of the high school in the next school year. Currently there are 400 Chromebooks in use at HCHS, along with other tablet computing devices.

» Trustees recognized members of the Cometbot robotics team who recently competed in the FIRST Championship event in Detroit; high school Student Council Association members who attended a leadership conference in Virginia Beach; division art winners in the Virginia School Board Association student art contest; and South Hill Elementary kindergarten and fifth grade students who sang songs at the beginning of the meeting, which took place at the elementary school.

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Regional playoffs 2018 with a very good Comet team seeded to host. But we can't host because of the VHSL Halifax Rule put in place in 1991 some 17 years prior. Nothing has been done to improve the stadium since then. Except for the hard working Booster Club and other functions like the Jeff Nelson Memorial. Start a GoFundMe site now, please. The athletes deserve better.


MAKE THAT 27 years.


Some things never change!! Lack of leadership at the funding level(BOS) is one of the problems!! Halifax always falls in the “ pay later” category!!! Now pay later has arrived!!! Until there is a change in mindset, nothing is going to change-in fact it has and is getting worse!!!


Parts of the stadium is about to be condemned. Look at the rails, nothing but rust. Look at the single wide that is called a press box that is about to fall. The stadium was in bad shape when Coleman Starnes, Bill Vanney, and Ron Ramsey were there, but they went out and raised money to patch the obvious. Now the stadium structure is terrible. What if the press box falls and badly hurts or kills people and the school board is looking a a multi million legal action. Thinking about it more, the Booster Club has probably given the athletic department $100,000. in the last 15 years. What has the School Board given the Athletic Department. The School Board could put $750,00 each year towards the stadium and an eq sual amount towards renovation of the school. This is blunt, but WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP? It is not in the concession stand selling hot dogs, popcorn, and sodas!

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