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Opinion

That’s the spirit

SoVaNow.com / August 08, 2018
I resolved some time ago to say nice things about county officials whenever they showed the willingness to compromise on the biggest challenge to confront Mecklenburg County in a long, long time — replacing the county’s hopelessly outdated school facilities — so in that spirit, let’s take a gander at the top headline from last week’s front page, “Supes soften stance on school budget cap” and give credit where credit is due.

The story, in a nutshell, concerns comments made by members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors regarding their willingness to increase the self-imposed $100 million cap for construction of the county’s proposed new middle school/high school complex. According to the county’s architects, the $100 million budget doesn’t leave sufficient spending room to build an auditorium capable of seating the middle school or high school student populations, nor does it allow for auxiliary gyms or a new athletic stadium. The proposed ag barn with full classroom facilities — an item that really ought to be atop the county’s to-do list, considering the importance of farming to the local economy — is a no-go unless supervisors agree to raise the school construction budget. “We don’t want to be cutting this thing down,” said ED-8 supervisor David Brankley upon hearing about the trade-offs involved with the $100 million cap. “We want something we can be proud of for the next 50 years.”

Well said by Mr. Brankley. The architect, Bill Upton of the Richmond firm of Ballou Justice Upton Architects, told board members it would take another $15 million to $35 million to build a full-fledged school without glaring shortcuts. (Not having a football stadium is a plain enough example of what we’re talking about.) Look, I’m not architect. Elsewhere on this page, Boydton reader Al Potter has written a Viewpoint letter questioning the architect’s cost estimate for the school. Mr. Potter‘s argument is not one I’m qualified to assess. That said, it’s easy to spitball cost estimates, but much tougher to back up claims that something inherently big and expensive can be done on the cheap. Let’s remember here that Mecklenburg County is having to climb the high hill of compensating for three or four decades of laggard investment in school facilities. The idea that we can get by with a few low-cost renovations to broken down, poorly-maintained school buildings was rejected by the people who have been most closely involved with this process from the start, and rightly so.

But none of the second-guessing is new. What is new is the supervisors’ apparent willingness to set aside ultimatums and cost caps and work with school officials to build a facility the entire county can be proud of, for generations to come. This is not to say that the supervisors and members of the Mecklenburg County School Board have worked out all of their differences, or that future problems won’t arise that could throw a wrench into the works, but the most recent supervisors’ meeting is an encouraging expression that leaders of the county will see this project through to fruition, one way or another. Maybe this commitment is something that can be — and should be — taken for granted at this stage of the process. Maybe not.

For my part, I’m ready to move on to the point where we start to argue about the consolidated school’s mascots and colors.

***
So, about that ….

Mike Moseley, our esteemed sportswriter, and I were discussing the choice of school colors and others matters related to the athletics program at the brand new Mecklenburg County High School just the other day. Mike is delving into various aspects of high school and middle school consolidation as it relates to high school sports, so look for that article (or articles) from him in the near future. Meantime, some months ago, I wrote in this space that I’d like to see Mecklenburg County High adopt colors from both Bluestone and Park View in tribute to both school communities. My suggestion is green and gold, after the color scheme at William & Mary, and I further proposed the new MCHS could adopt the college’s nickname, too — the Tribe, which would symbolize the coming together of Mecklenburg’s disparate communities and pay homage to the native peoples who are such an important part of the county’s history.

While Mike expressed support for the idea of combining Bluestone and Park View school colors, he offered a different and probably aesthetically superior design scheme: blue and green. It works for the Seattle Seahawks, right? Seatle’s NFL franchise has some sharp-looking uniforms indeed. But we can hardly use Seahawks as a team mascot. How about River Hawks? That certainly fits with a county that can claim to be an epicenter of the Roanoke River basin. And we have lots of river hawks, especially below the dam as the Roanoke River turns into Lake Gaston. Besides, two-word animal mascot names are cool. River Dogs. Flying Squirrels. Fighting Badgers. Okay, so I made up that last one. But I bet Wisconsin football would be less prone to losing big games if they added “Fighting” to the school’s nickname.

The good thing about this question is that both the consolidated high school and middle school teams will need new colors and mascots, so more than one idea can suffice. And others surely will have their own thoughts. So how about sharing your ideas with us so we can share them with readers? You can write The Sun, P.O. Box 997, Clarksville, Va. 23927 or simpler yet, email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The mascot and school color suggestions we like, we’ll share with readers. Put those thinking (ball)caps on!

***

Two counties over to our west, the Pittsylvania County Planning Commission was set to meet Tuesday to consider a request by Walter and Alice Coles to rezone 24 acres of their land from residential to agricultural. Walter Coles is founder and president of Virginia Uranium, Inc., which has long sought to mine uranium at the Coles Hill farm near Chatham. While mining is banned in residential zones, it is allowed in areas zoned for agriculture, with the stipulation that the operation must first obtain a special exception permit. It’s not hard to see what’s happening here. After a long period of dormancy, uranium mining has returned as a dire threat to Southside Virginia.

This is all tied into the Supreme Court’s decision to review the legality of Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. The justices are set to hear arguments in October in a lawsuit that Virginia Uranium brought to overturn the state moratorium. At issue is whether Virginia has exceeded its regulatory authority in banning mining for the past four decades. VUI’s lawsuit has been rejected twice at the district and appellate levels of the federal court system, but four justices on the Supreme Court — the threshold for granting a writ of certiorari, or review — have deemed that the lawsuit raises significant legal questions that could result in the lower court decisions being overruled.

Which raises the question: What happens if the State of Virginia loses at the high court? If it happens, regulation of uranium mining will continue, but instead of the State of Virginia bottling up the entire enterprise, the decision on whether to green-light the mining project will shift to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which was strongly pro-industry even before the Trump Administration took over. I have no doubt that the NRC is temperamentally inclined to approve Virginia Uranium’s application, notwithstanding the hellstorm that will surely arise not only in Southside Virginia but in Hampton Roads, Charlottesville-Orange County and other communities where the prospect of uranium mining inspires fear and loathing.

Another factor to consider: with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court currently has only eight members pending the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick to fill the vacant seat. You can never be too sure about how justices will rule on a case before they announce their decisions, but it’s hardly a stretch to think that the four members of the court who agreed to grant the review of Virginia Uranium’s lawsuit might come from the court’s conservative bloc. Roughly speaking, there’s a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court with Kavanaugh waiting in the wings. There’s also a chance, however slim, the Virginia Uranium lawsuit could be heard before Kavanaugh is seated, and a chance, perhaps also slim, that the case could end in a 4-4 tie, in which case the lower court decision in favor of the State of Virginia would stand. Too much to ask for? Let’s hope not.





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