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Mecklenburg supes give thumbs down to design, cost for school complex

South Boston News / May 16, 2018
Plans have been drawn up for Mecklenburg County’s combined high school/middle school complex, but if the initial reaction of Mecklenburg County supervisors is any guide, the architect’s best-laid designs will be fleeting indeed.

The design concept for the future school complex, developed by Richmond architects Ballou Justice Upton, drew a withering reception Monday from members of the Board of Supervisors who sit on the joint education committee with School Board trustees. Despite architect Billy Upton’s description of what he called a “basic” school, supervisors panned the Upton proposal as much too costly.

Claudia Lundy, ED-4 supervisor and chair of the joint education committee, told trustees to “stop playing games and build the kids an adequate school.”

Given the task of designing a building that fits a $100 million budget, Upton said his firm developed a $113 million proposal for a basic school, $135 million with extras.

He said $8 million of the overrun past the $100 million limit was due to costs “not traditionally part of the school construction budget” — purchasing land, running water and sewer lines to the property, doing road improvements and adding a pump station, most of which is the result of building the school on a site miles away from town infrastructure.

Another $15 million is needed for building and environmental permits and furnishings. That leaves only $77 million in the budget for actual construction, and that assumes there are no “geological problems” that crop up because of rock formations throughout the site, Upton said.

County Administrator Wayne Carter responded by citing the supervisors’ bottom line for construction: “That’s your budget, $100 million. That’s what my board wants me to say.” Carter added, “There’s a big difference between wants and needs.”

“What is the price on education?” trustee Dale Sturdifen replied. “The $100 million was not based on actual cost, but as a guestimate. The cost has changed because of location.”

Speaking after the meeting, Sturdifen suggested it was time for county supervisors, who secured purchase options on the property for the school site, to consider an alternate location, possibly one on Antlers Road.

“If the budget is set, to save money and help our kids so they can get the best academic opportunities, we may need to look at other sites,” said Sturdifen.

To design and build a school on land at the corner of Wooden Bridge Road and U.S. 58 — the current identified school site — Upton said the budget would need to increase to $113 million to meet basic requirements of the Virginia Department of Education. The basic design for a 330,00 square foot facility would include:

» 4,000 seat football stadium surrounded by a running track

» 800 seat auditorium

» 2,000 seat gymnasium

» Two auxiliary gyms, one for the high school and one for the middle school

» shared kitchen

» separate eating facilities for the high and middle schools

» shared media center

» teacher development center

» six career centers for CTE related classes

» Separate soccer, baseball, and softball fields and tennis courts for the high and middle schools

» classrooms for both the high and middle schools

Additional facilities that trustees Dora Garner and Sturdifen have cited as necessary for a first-rate education would not be built under the basic option. These include an aquatic center, separate agriculture facility and barn. The 800-seat auditorium would not accommodate the entire middle school, which currently is envisioned to have around 1,000 students, or the high school, with over 1,500 students.

If supervisors refuse to increase the construction budget, Upton said he would have to eliminate the auditorium from the design and cut back the size of both the gymnasium and the football stadium. According to Garner, there would be no opportunity to bring regional sporting events to the county. That’s something that is seen as an economic development opportunity in other communities, she noted.

But Lundy wondered if auditorium was being sacrificed to save the aquatic center or some of the other items on the School Board’s “wish list.” Lundy was assured by Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols that this is not the case.

“To build a school within the existing pot of money, the school would not have an auditorium,” based on current budget estimates, Nichols said.

Lundy retorted, “So you’re asking for money that you don’t need right now. That’s what you’re doing?” Nichols replied, “We are asking based on the architect’s rendering what he believes are the fundamental costs.”

Lundy chastised School Board members for even presenting what she called were “wish list items.

“We want the basic academic settings for the centers for X number of students. That’s what we need right now,” said Lundy. “Down the road there will probably be some unforeseen things that we will have to budget for. We don’t need to be talking about this barn or aquatic center or school board office. We’ve already got a school board office. We gave you a certain amount of money, a budget. You need to get a design team that will stay within that budget.”

“With just the athletic [fields], the academics [classrooms] and the auditorium, right now we are looking at $113 million [in construction costs],” Nichols explained to Lundy.

Trustee Wanda Bailey said she preferred to focus on the positive aspects of the new design, instead of what supervisors said the school could not have. She pointed to the efficient use of space in the new combined facility. The square footage of Mecklenburg’s four existing schools for grades 6-12 is 406,000 square feet, whereas the new facility is only 335,000 square feet.

“Even with less space, it’s better space to be used for students that is not crowded and is adequate for our students. There is no wasted space. It provides more learning space and a bigger library,” said Bailey.

Additionally, she noted “some of the costs that we are incurring with this site may have been unanticipated when the first total figure was devised because we may have thought it was going somewhere else where there was already infrastructure in place.”

Sturdifen asked Lundy to think about the students who, she acknowledged, for too long have attended “inadequate schools,” ones where teachers, students, athletes, and others were “forced to make due.” He offered an example: “We have a track team but no track.”

He continued, “Our students should no longer have to make do. These items that we are asking for are not just school but community items. It is my opinion that if we continue to go for the basic and cut it and cut it, then we as a school board are not doing our job. If we have an opportunity to do it right the first time, then let us give you what we feel is adequate. This [proposed school] is not a luxury.”

The discussion ended with Upton agreeing to head back to the drawing board and supervisors agreeing to discuss the matter further with the other members of their board who were not present at Monday’s meeting.


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So from the quotes I am reading, the Board of Supervisors will only support "inadequate" or "basic" schools for our children. I have always taught my children to strive to be the best, why would I want them to go to "inadequate" or a "basic" school?


Sorry take 80 million and spend 20 each on the high school and the middle school and save 20 million.


The Supes should show up at schools and tell the kids not to strive for 500's and 600's on SOL's, that they should shoot for the minimum 400. Lets also tell them to strive for no grade higher than a C and that they should all have GPA's around a 2.0 or just a little higher. The sports teams should all shoot for .500 records...nothing more, nothing better. If the school is built, lets see if we can get hand-me-downs from other schools or even maybe get a discount on some damaged items. The firm hired says $113 million will barely cover what the state requires, but who is the VDOE to tell Mecklenburg what they have to do? Well someone needs to look out for the students best interests.


to education matters, your logic on the SOL scores is all wrong. If they get a 400 they pass, what do they get is the get a 600. If the Virginia taxpayer knew how much money was spent on SOL's each year they would be livid! They have to send them to Texas to get graded. I pushed Frank Ruff for an estimate for the cost, he never gave me one. From one I could gather on various websites these test cost 300 million a year state wide. Stop all this BS testing. The schools don't care if a kid knows anything as long as they can past the test and they look good on a report an meet accreditation. You don't need a 100 million building for kids to learn.


I may be wrong...and I'm sure someone will correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that the people that own the land only paid a fraction of what they are asking for it. Sounds like they are the ones holding the county hostage. The school board is crazy if they pay that much for the land when there are other places that are just as acceptable to build.


A school that large is a significant security issue. I hope they are factoring in the need for secure entrances/exits, metal detectors and multiple armed officers.

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