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Obstacles lie ahead after vote to build new school
SoVaNow.com / January 25, 2017With the Mecklenburg County School Board and Board of Supervisors seemingly on the same page in terms of building a consolidated middle school-high school complex to serve all county students, the question becomes: What next?
On Jan. 17, the School Board dropped its standing request for two school complexes, one for each end of Mecklenburg, as a 5-4 divide among trustees flipped in favor of the consolidated school option. Trustees Rob Campbell, Lindell Palmer and Brent Richey, previously opponents of a single school complex, threw in their support with advocates Dale Sturdifen and Dora Garner to form a majority.
Glenn Edwards and Kenny Johnson, who previously argued for a single school to accommodate grades 6-12, parted ways with last week’s vote, joining Wanda Bailey and Gavin Honeycutt in the minority. In explaining his stance, Edwards cited the hardship for his constituents with a condition set forth by the majority — for the new school to be built at a site somewhere between Boydton and Park View High School, just outside of the Town of South Hill.
Even with the trustees’ concession to the bottom-line demand of the Board of Supervisors — a commitment to spend $100 million on a single school complex, to be built roughly in the center of the county — there is no guarantee that Mecklenburg County will see new school construction any time soon. Supervisors have yet to sign off on the trustees’ proposal nor procure a suitable site. Supervisors also must determine what to do with the four vacated school buildings. At the same time, the School Board must come up with a building design and address transportation issues that will arise with consolidation.
Members of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors expressed cautious optimism thus week that, at the very least, a location can be found for the new school and a preliminary design completed by the end of this year. “I believe we can move much more quickly now with the vote,” said School Board Chair Richey.
Glenn Barbour, who chairs the Board of Supervisors and has personally supported the idea of keeping school complexes at each end of the county, called Tuesday’s vote “a step in the right direction.” He and Dan Tanner are the only supervisors who have supported the two-school option.
But Barbour also has said he would support the will of the majority of both boards, and towards that end, he believes the next step should be a search for three to four appropriate sites to consider, led by the joint education committee comprised of members of both boards.
“If we don’t agree on a site, we are spinning our wheels,” said Barbour.
In the past, Barbour acknowledged, most supervisors have spoken about locating the consolidated school in Boydton, due to the cost of running sewer lines to a site further east on U.S. 58. Water lines run along the highway from South Hill to the Microsoft plant in Boydton, but municipal sewer service does not exist. Laying sewer lines would come at significant expense, but Barbour said he believed such an expansion could “open up the Highway 58 corridor to more economic development opportunities.”
Barbour also favors locating the new school complex on U.S. 58. “If we’re going to build a tremendous facility, then we need to put it out there for everyone to see, because of the impact it might have on economic development,” he said. “This facility will be quite impressive.”
Gregg Gordon, board vice chair and chair of the Finance Committee, said, “The Board of Supervisors needs to allocate money to start planning for the new school complex. We need to find the best location. One that best suits the needs of all involved.”
Gordon, who advocates building the high school-middle school complex on land where Mecklenburg Correctional Center once stood — on Prison Road in Boydton — said his condition for supporting a school outside of Boydton is that “there must be enough land to expand opportunities for kids.”
In particular, Gordon said he wants Mecklenburg County to develop a site with enough land for a working farm similar to one currently operated by Randolph-Henry High School students in Charlotte County.
Supervisors recently heard a presentation by Randolph-Henry ag teacher Jim Pugh which highlighted the various programs available to students at the high school’s 165-acre farm — crop production, animal husbandry, catfish farming, apiculture, timbering, general farm operations, mechanics for farm equipment and other offerings.
As part of the site selection process, Gordon said the School Board also needs to do a study of the “bus situation.” “Already, there are students riding the bus for more than one hour, one way, each day,” Gordon noted, adding that more bus runs may be needed. “We need to get the transportation portion right,” he said.
Any plan to build a new school complex must include plans for either demolishing or repurposing the existing Bluestone and Park View facilities, Barbour and Gordon agreed. Gordon said he would like the athletic facilities at Park View High School to become a public venue for sporting events, with perhaps a new YMCA going there as well. Whatever the outcome, Gordon said, “We don’t want to leave an eyesore standing.”
Supervisor Claudia Lundy, who chairs the joint education committee, said it is too early to discuss site plans and building designs. First, the Board of Supervisors must vote to accept the recommendation of the School Board. Lundy said she’ll ask for that vote at the next meeting of her board, on Feb. 13.
Richey said he is optimistic that the supervisors will see last week’s trustees’ vote as a major concession and accept the proposal.
Richey said, “I have no crystal ball, but I believe we all agree on the Highway 58 corridor as the best location for the new school. I hope supervisors agree we made our best effort and that the vote to consolidate is the biggest concession. The location [of the school complex] is a much smaller issue.”
He called any decision to expand infrastructure along U.S. 58 to accommodate a new school — even at a projected cost of $2 million per mile for new sewer line — “a no brainer. There’s a lot of value to it.”
Richey said he was also willing to support a compromise floated by trustee Edwards that calls for renovation of Park View High School to become a middle school, and the construction of a new consolidated high school-middle school for the west end of the county. But “that idea did not seem to gain any traction” among trustees, Richey added.
Even though some members of both the School Board and Board of Supervisors continue to oppose a consolidate school, Gordon said he believes if the two boards work together and produce a plan — something for people to look at — the public and the business communities will support the consolidated school and have a better understanding of its benefits.
Richey said all the School Board can do for now is wait for the supervisors to either accept or reject the trustees’ proposal.
CommentsIn regards to the abandoned facilities , perhaps forming a Recreation Dept. to oversee and run programs for our youth . In a county that thrives on recreational activities, it seems like a good fit.
- By Eddie Elliott on 01 / 25 / 17
CommentsTake it from someone in Halifax who has Mecklenburg ties, you do not want one school Remodel the existing schools like Pittsylvania Co. did much better option!
- By allpolitical2 on 01 / 25 / 17
CommentsI agree with you allpolitical2. I have ties to Halifax, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties. Pittsylvania County's 4 high schools looked like Mecklenburgs currently do and after the renovations, Pittsylvania schools look like brand new, state of the art buildings at a fraction of the cost. Halifax is now discussing building a new school and I find it odd how their anticipated cost is significantly lower than the figures Mecklenburg is throwing out and discussing AND Halifax is discussing moving towards two high schools in an effort to reduce busing and the large numbers of students in one single building. Why is it that Mecklenburg talks about what they want to duplicate from surrounding area schools, but doesn't want to seek the advice of the areas that are dealing with the same issue or have recently dealt with it. Tunnel vision and personal goals is what is keeping Mecklenburg behind.
- By Defylogic on 01 / 25 / 17
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