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New movement on HCHS

South Boston News
School trustees held a planning season and board retreat Tuesday at the middle school. (Liza Fulton photo) / February 25, 2021
Finding a solution for Halifax County High School is back on the frontburner for the Halifax County School Board with its decision Tuesday to enter into an interim agreement with a Roanoke design-build team on the high school project.

The School Board voted 7-0 to hire Branch Builds, Inc. and design partners RRMM Architects to carry out preconstruction services for a high school upgrade — services that include defining the scope and sequence of construction and, pending approval, developing an actual school design.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg said Wednesday that the choice by trustees does not guarantee that Branch Builds will be chosen to rebuild or renovate HCHS. But the design-build team — which handled the renovations of Halifax County Middle School more than a decade ago — is the clear favorite for the job.

“They’ve done good work for us from the moment we selected them for the PPP process,” said Lineburg, referring to the Public-Private Education Facilities Act, which allows school divisions to enter into public-private partnerships to streamline construction of new facilities.

“We’re confident enough in them that they are going to proceed with this process,” Lineburg said.

The interim agreement with Branch Builds-RRMM gives the School Board the option of tapping the general contractor for actual construction work down the road. Before that happens, however, Lineburg said the School Board will lean on the builders and architects to develop plans for the size and scope of a future HCHS — a task that has been complicated by the pandemic.

“What’s the high school going to look like in the post-covid era? Is the footprint going to shrink some? I think that’s a foundational question,” said Lineburg. “We need someone to help with that process.”

The decision to hire a general contractor and architectural firm also does not mean any decision has made been on whether to renovate HCHS or start over with a new facility. “That’s up to the board and it’s up to me to provide the best information that I can possibly bring to them,” Lineburg said.

Under the interim agreement, Branch Builds and RRMA Architects will execute preconstruction services in phases, with an approval process in place before moving onto each new phase. Phase I calls for “a review of the comprehensive needs of the schools considering a post-COVID-19 educational approach.

“Revisions to the program will be determined over a series of 3-4 on-site committee and/or public meetings and a step-by-step approach will be developed and mutually agreed upon by the [the School Board] and [the] Design-Builder,” the agreement reads.

Branch Builds will be paid $60,000 for Phase 1 services, which it should be able to complete in two or three months, according to the contract.

“Phase I is pre-design work and intended to be the springboard to evaluate the current needs [at HCHS] and prepare for commencement of design activities in Phase 2,” it continues. After the completion of a school design and approval by the School Board, “it is the expectation that this team will receive a construction contract should the Owner choose to proceed with construction.”

Preconstruction planning should show whether Halifax County Public Schools can “pursue other capital improvements through the reduction in scope and size of The Project,” the agreement states. That is a reference both to the need to come up with a fix for the dilapidated high school, and to tackle expensive facility upgrades at county elementary schools, some of which may be replaced or rebuilt.

If the footprint of the high school is reduced, it conceivably could free up money for improvements to the county’s older elementary schools. Consolidation of small elementary schools in the HCPS system also is an option.

Lineburg said the inaction on the high school over the past year — the product of the pandemic taking first precedence — means that construction costs will change, likely resulting in higher prices per-square foot. But the pause also means the School Board can refocus on what the contract calls “a major change in the instructional delivery paradigm for all school divisions.”

“There are some people who like virtual [education], and I think that’s going to be true for the long haul,” he said. “I think there are significantly more people who are going to like face-to-face [classroom learning] best, and that is what we think is best. But you have to have an option for kids” whose families want them learning at home.

With money from the 1 percent county sales tax to fund construction at the high school and at other facilities, he added, “we’ve got revenue that no one else in the state of Virginia has, but the longer we wait, the less of that revenue we’ll have … I think time is important. Time is of the essence.”

He added, “I think the scope of the project can change, too. We hope it changes the footprint.”

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Covid has proven we do not need a $200 million dollar new school. Given the inability to have internet access in our county, the immediate effort to fix limited broadband is our main priority. This county is stuck on stupid. a new school accomplishes nothing especially when remote learning is the new normal. why the rush to go spend $200 mil? cause people think brick and moratr is progress. wasteful


Agreed, this county is so far behind in technology it is embarrassing. The school system had our poor children looking for WiFi in selected parking lots. Very very sad county with NO leadership. We found out just how useless school buildings were with COVID. We need better fiscal leadership in this county. It would be nice if we could get leaders with fiscal accounting backgrounds and intelligence.



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