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Halifax parents press case for full-time school

Dozens of parents of Halifax County students plan to approach the Halifax County School Board at the July 13 meeting of trustees to plead for changes in the current proposal…

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Like ‘walking out of a cave’

South Boston News
Brandon Davis addresses supervisors on conditions at HCHS. / October 10, 2019
Most students at Halifax County High School aren’t old enough to vote, but they can speak out — as four members of the student body did Monday night at the Halifax County Board of Supervisors meeting in Halifax.

Seniors Brandon Davis, Nicholas Harris and Morgan Epperson and sophomore Lydia Wenzel appeared before the supervisors to press the case for the 1-cent sales tax referendum to modernize the high school, which some of the students suggested should be replaced entirely.

They described woeful conditions at the 41-year-old facility: bathrooms don’t work and weren’t made for people with disabilities, interior surfaces are dingy and carpets are stained, the limited number of windows lets in very little natural light, and the building is plagued by persistent odor and moldy air, setting off allergies among students and teachers alike.

“Students want to be proud of the building where they will spend the next four years of the lives, learning and preparing for the rest of their lives,” said Wenzel. “Their school should be as bright as their futures.”

By contrast, HCHS as it exists today is “set in a dark, gloomy environment.” When she steps outdoors into bright sunlight, Wenzel added, she often gets a headache: “It feels like I am walking out of a cave.”

Harris, like Wenzel a member of the Comet cross-country team, said HCHS suffers in comparison to other schools in the region he has visited. “Most schools have a better learning environment than our high school,” he said. The same holds true for the portion of his school day that Harris spends at the STEM Center in Halifax, taking advanced classes there.

“It is sad that both the middle school and STEM Center are in better condition than the high school,” lamented Harris.

“During any casual school day, Halifax County High School runs a prison-type environment that my classmates are not excited about,” he continued, citing problems with falling bricks, broken bathroom fixtures, stained carpets and other issues.

Perhaps the worst problem is the indoor air that students and staff are forced to breathe, he said: “Everywhere you go there is a disgusting odor, especially in the locker rooms …. Mold is all over the school,” said Harris. “The overall condition of the building is putrid and disgusting.”

Epperson, an honors student and member of the Comet tennis team, said “we are one of the biggest schools in our district but one of the worst. I am embarrassed whenever other schools come here. My friend from Northern Virginia comes here and she says it looks scary.”

Epperson touched on the security concerns of the building, with its large number of exterior doors and other potential vulnerabilities in the event of a school shooter: “We don’t feel safe,” she said. She also bemoaned the “disgusting” locker rooms, where sewage seeps up through drains and swamps the floors. “The locker rooms are in terrible shape.”

Challenging county voters to approve the 1 cent sales tax to address the high school’s shortcomings — “tell us we are worth more than 1 cent” — Epperson said students are following the community debate on the referendum and waiting to see what decision that Halifax County renders for its younger generation.

“These students have seen the fight for a new school and heard how many citizens feel we are not worthy of a new school,” said Epperson.

“Why are we not allowed to feel safe in our learning environment? Why are we not worthy of learning in an environment that encourages us? Why shouldn’t we learn in an environment where we feel more like young adults and not prisoners?”

Brandon, a Comet football standout, also brought up how students with health issues suffer from having to spend their day at HCHS: “I feel a new school will get rid of this awful mold presence,” he said, calling the high school “a terrible environment to learn in,” with bad lighting, poor security, and unhealthy air.

Bathrooms offer no privacy, and many of the toilets do not work, Davis said. As a result, “students have five minutes between classes and cannot make it to class on time because of the shortage of toilets.”

As a student-athlete, Davis also expressed his disappointment with HCHS’s athletic facilities: “All fields, courts and locker rooms are outdated with terrible structural and sanitary conditions. I feel our athletes deserve better.

“No, this [new] school will not benefit me as a student, but when I get older and hopefully see a new school, I can say I had a voice in it being built,” Davis said.

After each student spoke — drawing loud applause for their comments — they were followed at the speaker’s dais by adults in the audience. First up was SVHEC executive director Betty Adams, who repeated her call for citizens to pass the school referendum, which will generate about $3.5 million annually to update the high school, roughly $100 million over a 30-year period.

“The centerpiece of our public school system, which should be the crown jewel, our high school, is just not getting the job done,” said Adams.

Adams said she had “heard the stories about how the high school is preventing us from attracting doctors and nurses” to Halifax County, but witnessed the effect herself after attempting to hire a technical instructor for the SVHEC mechatronics program: “We found someone, a young man with a young family who wanted to move their family here, until they saw the high school. And then we lost them.”

She appealed to voters to take advantage of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to pass the sales tax referendum, thus shifting a major share of the cost of fixing the high school off the backs of local property taxpayers. “We’ve got to turn this around,” she said.

Robert Bates, chairman of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, also came forward to make the case for the referendum. He said the problems with the high school stem from the “sins of our fathers,” and the sales tax gives Halifax County a chance to start over with a quality high school.

“I want to be able to say, even with all the other things that are going in this community, that people driving through can say, ‘Wow, look at that school,’” said Bates. “If they believe that much in their students and their future, that town has got [to have] something good going for it.”

Thomas Majors, who also spoke during the citizen comment period, urged supervisors to support construction of a new school rather than trying to fix the current HCHS facility: “No remodeling,” he urged.

Striking a contrary note, however, was David Fraser, who argued that the high school building should never have been allowed to fall into its decrepit condition: “There’s a key word missing here — maintenance,” Fraser said.

Bringing up his service in the military, including his posts overseas, Fraser observed that “never ever, even in foreign lands, have I seen schools in such disrepair as ours.” He challenged supervisors to explain how they will keep a new building from meeting the same fate as the current HCHS facility. “What happened to that money?” Fraser asked of the school maintenance budget. “Where did it go?”

After hearing the citizen comments, Board Chairman Dennis Witt reminded the audience that supervisors voted unanimously to place the local sales tax referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot. While views may differ among supervisors on whether to build a new school or renovate the existing one, Witt emphasized the board is strongly in favor of the 1-cent tax.

“If you want to vote for the future and for the young people of Halifax County, you have to vote yes,” said Witt.

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Notice how the local government "servants" are blackmailing us? Either vote for this or we will raise your property taxes? The voters in these districts need to tell their BOS member no new tax increases. I have been saying for years that cuts need to be made, but none are. I went to the school for one year, I worked at the school for almost 5 years and my kids graduated from the school. It is not that bad. Sorry, I don't like using kids for political purposes. Only the government and upper class are asking us to vote for this. VOTE NO! I wish I had money to by vote no signs.


I'll be moving back, but we have other options for buying what we need. The rest of the sucker's that vote "yes" can choke on it.

Comments is presumptuous of you to automatically assume that these students are being used. You say you have children, at their high school age did you stymie their ability to hold and have an opinion or were they allowed to develop their own? Just maybe these students are in favor of a new school, are not being used and are using their daily interactions within the building to develop their own opinion.


I did not let them be used as pawns in a political game. At that age they want a new shiney toy, but they have no idea where the money comes from. As long as I was paying their bills, they had my opinion. Thankfully my anti tax conservative values rubbed off on them, one is a military officer and one is halfway through VT and he has to fight the toal PC crowd that our higher education and not local schools have become full of. People in the 50-70's got a better education than the kids today.


Agree with AP2 - there is way more to an education than a "shiney toy". However, the school is nasty - question is Who is to blame? and if a new school is built would it quickly fall into the same condition?


We KEEP hearing about the HCHS but there is NO mandate that the 1-cent tax has to be applied to a new school. Voters need to wake up and realize that the money will go into the general fund to be earmarked for capital improvements for schools but that is it. The recurring comments/issues at HCHS like "problems with falling bricks, broken bathroom fixtures, stained carpets and other issues." are ALL improper upkeep and maintenance issues and are normal wear and tear of any structure. The School Board, their maintenance employees and cleaning staff are wasting tax dollars and doing NOTHING to solve these issues. Taxpayers BEWARE!! You would not reward someone for failure to do their job and that is exactly what this referendum is created to do. The only people pushing this is public servants who are being PAID to do so.


The comments on here are ridiculous. As a libertarian, it only makes sense to make a 1% tax increase on sales that taxes everyone to an extent that is not a big deal. Go anywhere else and the sales tax is much higher than in Halifax County. Why would you not want the drunks at the liquor store and visiting people to the county to pitch in a little? You aren't gonna boycott buying dinner because the you have to pay 60 cents more in taxes. No one will even notice the difference in their everyday life. When you're thirsty and go to a gas station in another area, you don't put back your bottle of water because the sales tax is 1% higher than in Halifax County. Just be decent, everyone gets so bent out of shape over nothing and get out and see the world. You will then realize that Halifax is falling way behind.


I agree with you Say Yes. People say they are voting No and will boycott purchasing items in Halifax, but have no qualms with spending $ to drive outside the county to make their purchases as part of the boycott. These same people fuss about only property owners having to burden the expense of repairs and projects in the county, but when a solution is right in front of them, they are willing to vote No, thus forcing supervisors to raise property taxes and putting more of the burden on property owners and letting those who own no property off the hook, thus the voters of No are now hypocrites. Only in Halifax is this way of thinking logical.


allpolitical, I thank your child for their service. I have a HS age child who has military aspirations. Some high school age students are intelligent enough to understand the politicalness of this event and are knowledgeable of where the money comes from. In our house, as long as we are paying the bills, they will obey our rules. We encourage them to develop their own opinions and even if we disagree, we tell them that as long as they can support their beliefs with research, facts and make a compelling argument, we will support the child (not necessarily their beliefs).
Clouded, you're correct. People say they will vote no and boycott county purchases, but will spend money to travel out of the county AND pay a higher sales tax to purchase the same products. If we thought we could sell our house and relocate, we would...however our home value continues to decrease even though we are vigilant in the upkeep and seem to be putting more into it in order to keep some value steady.


As a Libertarian, I oppose any tax increase and believe taxes fund socialism.

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