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HILLSVILLE — By going for federal stimulus package money, the Carroll School Board may have found a way to pay for phase three of its facilities improvement program.
The improvements could include a new high school in the Woodlawn area, and renovations to Carroll Intermediate School and the current high school.
The idea considered by Carroll County School Board members during a special meeting Thursday was to move forward long-delayed work on the remaining schools, while continuing to position the county to possibly take advantage of an upcoming economic stimulus package for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects under the pending administration of Barack Obama.
Superintendent Greg Smith shared with the assembled school board the recommendations of the 14-member phase three planning team, which included educators, community members and county supervisors.
Carroll County had applied in December for a $130 million slice of the much-discussed national stimulus package that may total more than $700 billion, educators explained.
The school construction piece of that would account for about half of Carroll's request, but the superintendent did not go into what the other half would be.
The planning team prioritized two possible construction plans for phase three, and Smith brought the concepts to the school board for approval.
The options will be presented to the Carroll Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Monday. (Supervisors Wes Hurst and Andy Jackson are part of the planning team and have already signed off on the recommendations.)
If the county can get the federal money, then the planning team's first choice would be to build a new 900-student high school for grades 10-12; renovate the existing high school and move eighth and ninth grades there; renovate Carroll Intermediate School for sixth and seventh grades; and discontinue Woodlawn as a school site.
The option would cost $62.7 million.
If that much money is not available to the construction program, the planning team would recommend full renovation of the current high school and intermediate schools.
Under this alternative, the plan would prepare the high school to hold grades 9-12 and the intermediate school for grades 6-8. Both would get new wings for the added grades, a new cafeteria and multi-purpose physical education facilities and athletic fields, Smith said. Cost is projected at $35.1 million.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe said that the application that school board members spoke of was a list of shovel-ready projects that the Virginia Association of Counties suggested localities have prepared in case the stimulus package is approved by Congress.
Approval remains in question still until the new administration takes its place in Washington, D.C., and the particulars are worked out between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
Federally-funded projects would be along the lines of school improvements, water and sewer system installations, building of roads and bridges and starting broadband connectivity in communities.
"There's no process in place," Larrowe explained. "There had been a request by VaCo... they said, 'Get your list together.'"
VaCo, he pointed out, has no funding authority. If anything resembling the stimulus package happens, then the state would likely decide what projects get funded.
Besides putting schools on such a list, Carroll would include things like water and sewer infrastructure needed at Exit 19 of Interstate 77 (also known as Wildwood), Exit 1 at Lambsburg and Exit 8 at Fancy Gap, the Wired Road broadband project and the Virginia 669 connector to the Hillsville bypass, Larrowe said.
Taking advantage of the economic stimulus package is somewhat a case of "building the airplane as you're flying it," he added.
Carroll County is not waiting for money to fall from heaven, Larrowe said, but if the county did nothing to prepare for possible action on the national stimulus question, then it's a sure thing the county would get nothing.
"It's an interesting time, you know that," Larrowe told The Gazette. "The rule book has been thrown away."
The Carroll planning team also met with three potential architects for phase three, and recommended using Pinnacle Architects.
The school board members saw benefits in applying for federal funds, but the plans presented were not without objections.
School Board member Phillip Berrier indicated he thought the effort seemed rushed.
He felt the public needed to be more involved in the decisions, especially at Woodlawn, because it is "losing a school."
He asked if there are plans for public participation, or if the school board would be pushing it on people.
The superintendent answered that the school board would approach the supervisors on Monday for approval, and then approach the community with proposals.
Discussion for the countywide school improvement project began many years ago, Smith added. Closing the 100-year-old school at Woodlawn had long seemed a possibility.
"It needs to be vetted" in the community, Berrier said. He didn't think just the planning committee with its 14 members represented enough input.
There are structural concerns that would make it difficult to renovate Woodlawn for continuing use as a school, Smith said.
It would take "a great deal of funds" to just keep operating Woodlawn as a school because of updates and structural work it needs, Smith said.
Berrier said he's from a community that lost schools, referring to the closure of Mount Bethel and Lambsburg in school consolidations of the 1990s. "I hate to see any community lose a school."
It's likely that the proposed new high school would be in the Woodlawn area, because of growing populations west of Interstate 77, said school board member Robert Utz, who served on the planning team.
Newly-elected Chairman Reginald Gardner called it an "opportunity" to move forward with school construction. If the county does not set a construction plan and apply for money to fund it, then it's certain that Carroll could not get those funds.
Carroll County has already applied for stimulus package monies, because the deadline fell in December, Smith explained. "We had to apply to begin to be considered for this."
School board member Harold Golding said he was 100 percent in favor of applying for the money, yet he just wasn't sure about particulars of the proposed phase three plan.
Maybe the school board could look at it as Woodlawn not losing a school, but as gaining a new school, Gardner said.
Utz moved to accept the planning team's recommendation for a new high school and renovating CCHS and CCIS.
Golding hesitated to vote for that motion, and Berrier voted against it. Golding hoped that even if the motion was passed, that the construction planning ideas could be revisited.
But other school board members said approving the motion would approve that construction plan. After approval of the motion by Utz, Gardner and Franklin Jett, the other school board member on the planning team, Golding said, "I don't have any choice. Yes."
Jett moved to accept the fallback plan for renovation of CCHS and CCIS as the alternative. It was approved, with Berrier dissenting.
All construction plans are contingent on the funding.
Golding also moved to accept the recommendation of using Pinnacle as architects for phase three. The motion was approved, with Berrier casting the sole vote against.
• For more information on the phase three construction proposal, continue to watch www.galaxgazette.com and Monday's edition of the newspaper.