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Down to four?

South Boston News / September 13, 2018
Halifax County school officials are considering a new round of school closings that could cut the number of elementaries in Halifax County from seven to four.

With enrollments of less than 200 students at three elementary schools in the northern portion of the county, and projections that Halifax County’s population will drop further in coming years, “it’s difficult to imagine that the configuration [of elementary schools] is going to stay the same forever,” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg.

Trustees heard a presentation Monday night by Stephen Halsey with Moseley Architects on possible options for revamping the footprint of the county’s older elementaries, all located north of the Town of Halifax.

Halsey reviewed seven possible options, which represent variations of three basic plans: split up the northern end elementary school population between Meadville and Scottsburg, or add another school to that configuration at either the present site of Sydnor Jennings or Clays Mill Elementary, giving Halifax a total of five elementary schools.

The building upgrades involved with each plan vary in cost from $29.4 million to $52 million, but Lineburg said those are “just options,” and Moseley Architects has suggested there could be up to 17 variations that trustees could consider.

Before the School Board winnows down a set of choices to present to the public, Lineburg said more information is needed — especially demographic data on where elementary school-age children live in Halifax County, at the current moment and in coming years. Lineburg said the architects would conduct a GIS survey to give trustees a better idea of the best locations for new and renovated schools.

“Let’s see where the population is,” he said.

The three smallest schools — Clays Mill, Meadville and Sydnor Jennings — have enrollments of 136, 152 and 190 students, respectively. Sinai and Scottsburg have 224 and 260 students, respectively.

Lineburg said his idea of a “really nice” size for an elementary school is 500 to 600 students: “It gets all of your programs under one roof.”

South Boston and Cluster Springs, the county’s newest school buildings, have 665 and 535 students, respectively.

The disparities between the county’s oldest and newest elementary building have been a sore subject on the School Board for years, especially after Meadville and Sinai were left out of the school facilities upgrades carried out under former Superintendent Paul Stapleton. “I think every one of our board members wants equitable facilities for all of our schools,” said Lineburg.

Lack of equity and declining enrollments point to the need to fold some schools and consolidate in the modernized facilities that remain, but Lineburg acknowledged that all of the options could prove to be a difficult sell.

“Every community loves their school,” he said.

Further complicating the picture is the need to move forward with a plan for replacing or renovating Halifax County High School, which Moseley Architects suggests will cost between $88 million and $99 million. While the School Board has made no decisions on whether to pursue plans for the high school upgrade and elementary consolidation separately or together, Lineburg said the decrepit condition of HCHS demands an immediate response.

“We’ll have to spend $100,000 on the high school this school year just to have it running,” said Lineburg, citing the poor state of the school’s HVAC systems, plumbing, security and other issues. “That money is gone.

“In the next couple of months we’ve got to have a short-term focus on the high school and see where we are with [that]. I think the high school deserves our immediate attention right now.”

The School Board may want to proceed with a “grand plan” for reconfiguring the elementaries and revamping the high school all at once, but first “we’re going to work our way through a process and talk about it,” said Lineburg.

That process, he added, will include ample opportunities for public input, posting the architects’ recommendations on the HCPS website and talks the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, one-on-one and possibly at a joint meeting that Lineburg hopes to set up in December.

“We’re trying to involve the community every step we can,” he said.

With a facilities program that could cost $150 million to carry out, the argument for moving forward will be two-fold: providing modern and equitable facilities conducive to learning, and saving money on operating costs with fewer and more efficient buildings.

“If you went to four buildings at the elementary level as opposed to seven buildings … it’s hard to argue that operating four buildings won’t have some operational savings,” said Lineburg.

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Yea, they close schools way to early but we are to trust them to spend 150 mil. Sorry. Remodel or upgrade. Who the heck hired this guy?!?!? This is why we need to promote from within. A local person would understand that we don't have 230 mil. to put into school construction!

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