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Halifax County trustees ponder facility plan, marketing pitch

SoVaNow.com / April 11, 2019

With decisions still pending on plans to upgrade HCHS, Halifax County school officials have started talking with potential builders and consultants about construction of a new high school, while also working on a marketing pitch to take to voters this fall.

That much was clear at Monday night’s meeting of the Halifax County School Board as a new member of the Central Office reviewed some of the steps — those both taken and yet to come — in seeing the HCHS project to fruition.

Scott Worner, interim director of secondary education, offered one bottom-line cost estimate: what the school division would save by replacing the 40-year-old HCHS building, with its sprawling footprint, original climate control systems and decrepit state with a brand-new school.

According to Worner, Halifax County Public Schools spends nearly $10.9 million annually to operate HCHS, with the vast majority of that money tied up in personnel. The cost to run a new school, by contrast, would be just over $10.5 million, he said.

The difference would be $363,774 annually, a sum roughly equal to the revenue that Halifax County generates with every one-penny increase in the real estate tax.

Worner, who retired to the Clarksville area and has served as executive director of the Mecklenburg County YMCA before joining the Central Office earlier this year, walked trustees through a list of ways a new high school would save money: on heating, cooling, water and sewer costs, along with reduced spending on custodial supplies. A major source of savings — about $86,000 yearly — would come from payroll cuts for custodial and maintenance workers. All told, the school division could save $100,000 on personnel at HCHS, Worner estimated.

He also said the Central Office has retained the services of a construction consultant, Skanska Integrated Solutions, and it has received seven responses from Virginia and North Carolina builders to a request-for-proposal for engineering and architectural services with construction of a new school. The choice of a design/build firm for the project is expected to be made out of that pool of applicants.

On a different front, Worner emphasized the need for a public education campaign to explain why the county should invest in a new high school building. In a separate discussion, HCHS Principal Michael Lewis, CTE Coordinator Debra Woltz and Superintendent Mark Lineburg outlined plans for a highly career-oriented program of studies at the high school. The school division needs to explain the importance of a new facility in successfully carrying out the curriculum overhaul.

“It’s really important to make what goes on in the inside dictate what goes on on the outside,” Worner said.

On April 30, Halifax County Public Schools will kick off a capital fund raising campaign at The Prizery, featuring retired Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer. The division also has hired Russ Potts Productions, a capital campaign consultant, to oversee efforts to drum up private investment in a new school and hence reduce the cost to local taxpayers.
School Board Chairman Joe Gasperini also addressed the public relations job ahead, with the county expected to place a voter referendum on the November ballot asking citizens to approve a 1-cent local sales tax to help pay for the HCHS project.

“It’s not too early to talk about” the importance of passing the sales tax, said Gasperini. “Please talk to your relatives and to your friends, anyone who can vote.”
In other action at Monday’s School Board meeting, held at Sinai Elementary School:

» Trustees took no action on a proposal to hire a school security officer for the high school. As presented by Jeff Davis, director of student support services, the plan entailed taking funds out of the budget for a second school resource officer at HCHS and using the money to hire a school security officer.

SROs are law enforcement officers; SSOs are employed directly by the School Board, which in turn can set the job responsibilities for the position.

ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds, a member of the South Boston Police Department, expressed opposition to taking away one of the high school’s law enforcement officers, albeit serving in a secondary role, and replacing that officer with a security guard: “With an active shooter in the building, we would expect a security guard to run, like we all do,” said Edmunds.

“It’s no good to have a security guard in the building without a law enforcement officer,” he added.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts brought up another subject: an episode at HCHS involving a parent who visited the principal’s office, then departed to wander through the building and take video footage with his phone. “No parent should have free run of our school system,” said Potts, pressing Davis and HCHS Principal Michael Lewis to explain what security measures have been taken in the wake of the incident.

Lewis noted that the high school now requires visitors to pass through a metal detector before entering the building, and visitors to HCHS are escorted on their way out: “There are a lot of takeaways we all learned from that,” said Lewis.

Gasperini brought the discussion to a close by noting a consensus among trustees to have two SROs at the high school, but Davis will go forward with a grant application to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services in the hope of securing funds to hire an additional school security officer.

» Trustees also adopted with little discussion a proposal presented by Finance Director Robert Aylor for a new support staff pay scale. The School Board sought funding from county supervisors to implement the step pay schedule this year, but supervisors turned down the request. The rejected pay scale would have provided a significant salary boost for custodians, maintenance staff, school secretaries and other non-teaching employees.

Although the recommended pay scale won’t take effect anytime soon, trustees choose to approve the plan for the future rather than develop one from scratch. “It would be in the budget and hopefully we can pay for it next year,” Gasperini said.



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A guarantee-“Next year never comes when pay is involved!”
Now, you can take that to the bank!!!

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Potts is an idiot! NO parent should have run of the school. As a former parent of a HS student, I should be able to go in that school any damn time I want to. I am so sick of this pure BS. I am going to do my best to make sure that the sales tax is voted down. The school should be remodeled ( not for 80 mil) People this is your "elected" officials telling you where you can an cannot go. IT IS TIME TO TELL THESE PEOPLE WHO THE BOSS IS THE TAXPAYER!


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