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Opening delayed one year

South Boston News / July 31, 2019
The opening of Mecklenburg County’s new consolidated secondary school campus will be pushed back one year until August 2022, trustees were informed Monday night by Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols.

Nichols said he’d discussed the project timeline with the team hired to manage the school construction project, Richmond-based Skanska, as well as architects with Ballou, Justice Upton who are designing the new facility. They agreed that construction work cannot be completed by the date originally set: July 31, 2021.

Nichols said the architects and construction managers say they will need at least 24 to 30 months to build the new facility. The architects and officials with Skanska are just now seeking bids from contractors and finishing the permitting process. Therefore, the school buildings will not be ready for occupancy until after the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

The initial timeline announced by lead architect Billy Upton called for the contractors to break ground on Sept. 10, 2019 and complete work by the end of July 2021.

Nichols said the team discussed the possibility of moving students into the new facility in January 2022, at the start of the second semester. There are contractual issues with teachers and administrators that prevent that from happening, according to Nichols. Administrators, teachers, and staff receive 12-month or 9-month contracts, depending on their position.

Nichols did not expand on the point about contractual complications during Monday night’s meeting of the School Board. However, he previously told trustees that the new school facility would have one principal and three assistant principals at both the high school and at the middle school — implying that at least one principal and one assistant principal position would be eliminated at both the high school and middle school level when the schools are consolidated.

Currently there are two principals and four assistant principals between Bluestone and Park View high schools and the same number for the two middle schools. Nichols also discussed the possibility of consolidating other positions once the two high schools and two middle schools merge.

“I am relieved,” Nichols said about the extended construction timeline, adding that he was worried that weather delays and other issues could disrupt what was a very tight deadline.

“This is a hot construction market,” he added, before noting his concern that forcing a contractor to adhere to the existing timeline could drive up construction costs.

Nichols said he will discuss this new timeline with county supervisors at their regular monthly meeting in August. Chairman Dale Sturdifen asked Nichols to try to schedule a joint education committee meeting in light of this latest information.

The joint education committee includes members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board, as well as County Administrator Wayne Carter and Nichols. The panel is tasked with providing oversight and recommendations regarding the new school construction project and maintenance projects for existing school facilities.

In other business, Nichols announced that 15 new school buses ordered by the school division — 13 regular and 2 buses for special needs — are now at the bus depot. Drivers will learn who will be assigned one of these new buses on Aug. 7 when they receive the keys and their assigned bus routes.

In response to a question by trustee Dora Garner, Nichols explained that the decision as to which drivers will receive the new buses is based on two factors: seniority of the driver and age of the bus most recently assigned to the driver.

Trustees approved a new anti-tobacco policy, which was first brought to the board in March by Holley Tillman with the Y-Street 24/7 Campaign for Tobacco Free Schools. The policy, which Tillman said was part of a statewide campaign, would make Mecklenburg County school division campuses and school-sponsored events tobacco-free zones

The language in the new policy aligns with legislation signed by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this year mandating all local school boards to develop and implement a comprehensive tobacco-free policy banning the possession, use or distribution of any tobacco product (such as cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis and wrappers) or nicotine vaping product (such as an e-cigarette, or electronic device or cartridge that contains nicotine). The ban applies to students and school employees and the use of these products by visitors on a school bus or on school property, and at on-site and off-site school-sponsored activities.

The school division must also offer instruction concerning the health and safety risks associated with the use of tobacco products, nicotine vapor products and other nicotine products. School divisions are further banned from entering into promotional contracts or sponsorships with organizations or companies that promote or give the appearance of promoting the use of tobacco products or nicotine vaping products.

Trustee Wanda Bailey said she supported the policy but asked the board to consider amending it at their next meeting in August — adding language that bans the use, distribution and possession of cannabis oil (CBD) products or CBD vaping products by students on a school bus or school property, and at on-site and off-site school-sponsored activities.

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