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Future of HCHS returns to forefront / January 13, 2020

The Halifax County School Board will convene tonight in Halifax for the first time in 2020 with an organizational vote at the start of the meeting.

Trustees are set to elect a chairman and vice chairman and designate a board clerk and deputy clerk, among other organizational matters.

The meeting, slated for 6:30 p.m. at the Bethune Complex in Halifax, also will offer a first look at updated options for modernizing Halifax County High School in the wake of the successful sales tax referendum vote in November.

“There’s going to a lot of information” brought out at the meeting, said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg.

The presentation, by interim secondary education director Scott Worner, will “look at every option — repair, renovate or replace,” said Lineburg.

Worner’s presentation will be based on multiple studies of the high school, data from the Virginia Department of Education, and school administrators’ reviews of school construction projects in Virginia going back decades.

“There will not be recommendations, but there will be ample information. We’ve collected what we think is every bit of information we have,” said Lineburg.

Sources for the presentation include the two recent architectural studies of HCHS — by Moseley Architects, hired by the School Board, and OWPR Architects and Engineers, hired by the Board of Supervisors — as well as a prior study by B&B Consultants, the local firm that was tasked by the School Board under then-superintendent Merle Herndon to assess the condition of the tattered facility.

Other sources for tonight’s presentation include a soil analysis by Hurt & Profitt, presented to trustees in 2018, and the School Board’s capital improvement plan, approved in 2019.

“We are sharing everything up front,” said Lineburg. “This is the board’s first time hearing [this package of] information as well.”

Tonight’s presentation will not delve into the two PPEA (Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act) proposals for building a new high school. Two construction groups, headed up by separate architectural firms, have submitted packages to the School Board for building a new HCHS. Lineburg said those proposals remain on hold until county supervisors and school trustees reach agreement on a path forward for modernizing the high school.

It is a community decision, Lineburg said, and the job of school administrators and the School Board for the time being is to lay out the data on each option — repair, renovate or replace.

“We have worked diligently since the sales tax was approved to put together a package of information that is detailed but also makes sense,” he said. “We’re excited to carry it forward.”

At their first meeting of the year last week, county supervisors took no action on appointing members to a joint committee with school trustees. The committee will be asked to come up with a recommendation for the high school. Lineburg expressed hope its membership will be finalized soon.

“I talked to Scott [Simpson, county administrator] and I think that’s going to take place. I’m not sure what the timetable is,” said Lineburg.

“I do hope at some point, both boards can come together and have the information. I still think we can move fairly quickly on that. Once they [supervisors] name their representatives, we can start holding joint meetings.”

The School Board has appointed its 2019 chairman, Sandra Garner-Coleman, and ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd to the six-member committee. Members agreed in December to hold open a third appointment so board newcomers would have a chance to serve.

Tonight’s School Board meeting will be the first for incoming trustees Kathy Fraley in ED-1, Jay Camp in ED-4, and Keith McDowell in ED-7.

While Lineburg said the presentation tonight will include no recommendations, he noted that it takes a clear view on the costs of dragging out a final decision.

“The message is really, really clear — it does not matter if you replace, renovate or repair. Every month you wait, it costs $400,000,” he said.

As evidence, Lineburg pointed to the experience of Mecklenburg County, which formalized a contract in December for the construction of a new middle school-high school campus east of the Town of Boydton. The county’s board of supervisors budgeted $120 million for construction; the project cost eventually rose to $153 million.

“That’s what happened to Mecklenburg — time is of the essence,” said Lineburg. “We got some very good data on repair, renovate or replace, it doesn’t matter, it’s going to cost you $400,000 every month you wait.”

In other agenda items for tonight’s meeting:

» Trustees will hear budget workshop updates from Finance Director Robert Aylor.

» Trustees will be asked to appoint a School Board representative to the teacher advisory committee and facilities study committee, and name the 2020 student discipline committee.

» Members will set meeting dates and times for the 2020 calendar year.

» The student learning spotlight will turn to Scottsburg Elementary School, and students who serve as election pages and who took part in the annual EGP Market Day at The Prizery will be recognized.

» Also set for recognition at tonight’s meeting is longtime Gazette-Virginian sports editor Joe Chandler, who retired at the end of 2019. HCHS Principal Mike Lewis and Athletic Director Allen Lawter will present honors to Chandler.

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