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Funds denied, but school planning proceeds

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Given permission to plan — but nothing else — Carroll School Board members will do what they can to map out updates and upgrades to the county’s three remaining schools.

Even as the educators moved ahead with efforts to plan the final phase of facility improvements — despite the denial of a request for $500,000 from the county supervisors — School Board Member Reginald Gardner asked the board to prepare for a systems failure that might take Carroll High, Carroll Intermediate or Woodlawn School out of commission.

Schools Superintendent Greg Smith noted that, though the supervisors did not provide the money for a facilities study, they still allowed planning to go forward. He said that's just what the educators should do.

He referred to a facilities study conducted by the Virginia Department of Education that gave recommendations and cost estimates on renovating or replacing the remaining three schools.

"This is the next step in the planning process," he said.

It was important to bring in an outside group who would think outside of the box and bring new ideas, Smith explained.

After taking several factors into consideration — how the school buildings supported the educational programs held within and its adequacy; its history and location; the condition of major systems like plumbing, mechanical and electrical; the structure itself; accessibility and the costs to prepare the building for another 20 to 25 years of use — the review team recommended closing Woodlawn School in two different scenarios.

The team recommended closing the school after they figured that renovating Woodlawn would cost more than half the price of building a brand new school, the superintendent explained.

Smith hated to hear that from the team, but considering the age of the school, he expected it might happen.

The superintendent recalled a PowerPoint presentation he had made to the supervisors showing the aging and deteriorating conditions at Woodlawn. Photos from the school showed floor-to-ceiling cracks, cracks in the floor, and, the floor in the main hallway dropping more than an inch over the years.

“This building is coming to the end of its useful life," the superintendent said. "I think that was the consensus."

Option 1, as presented by the review team, recommended that Carroll officials:

• build a new high school on a new site to house 1,200 students in the 9th through 12th grades.

• relocate sixth and seventh graders from Woodlawn and the eighth grade from the intermediate school to the current high school building after renovating it into a middle school.

• shift the eighth graders from Cana back to a new eighth grade program at St. Paul School.

• use the intermediate school as an office for the school board, as well as other community needs.

Option 2 involved recommendations to:

• build a new 900-student high school for grades 10 to 12 on a new site to be determined.

• relocate the classes at Woodlawn to a renovated Carroll Intermediate School.

• renovate the existing high school building and use it to teach eighth and ninth grades.

• move the school board offices to either the intermediate or high schools.

The report also estimated the costs for these options.

Under Option 1, the new 1,200-student high school would cost nearly $42.3 million, including construction, design and equipment and furnishings. Converting the high school into a middle school would cost a total of $23.9 million, bringing the total estimate to $66.3 million.

Option 2 would cost $39.7 million to build a new 10-12 high school. Renovating the current high school into an intermediate school would cost $18.5 million and converting the intermediate into a school for sixth and seventh graders would be almost $16.3 million, for a total of nearly $74.5 million.

In order to continue the planning process from here, Smith asked the school board members to create a new planning committee with two school division administrators, two county supervisors, two from the school board and four others.

Gardner could still remember what the architect speaking about the need for facility improvements said two years ago. He could also remember a recommended cost of at least $90 million.

That study warned that it would just be a matter of time before one of these schools — particularly Woodlawn, with portions almost 100 years old, or the high school, which has gone 40 years with no major improvements — would have a major system collapse that would shut down the facility for a significant length of time. Gardner wanted to see the school system prepare for that contingency.

The school division can probably make arrangements to deal with problems caused by a closure of a few days, he added. "I'm talking if we have a crash longer than 10 days — where are we going to put these students?"

Will Carroll ask organizations like churches and the VFW to use their halls to teach class in? Gardner wondered.

As an example, he told of the time that a school lost power for a month. Fortunately it happened in the summer and the summer school held there could be moved.

The heating and air, plumbing and electrical systems in the remaining three unimproved schools are very old and they will likely break down, Smith agreed. Educators do need to begin formulating a plan for that situation.

"We need to be prepared," Gardner said. With that, he made a motion to create a committee to plan for handling that kind of emergency.

The school board approved the motion unanimously, after a second by member Franklin Jett.

Then Jett made a motion to follow the superintendent's recommendation on the facilities improvement planning, which was also approved unanimously.

Given the proposed schedule of 70 months to tackle the third and final phase of a countywide facility improvement program — which could conceivably wrap up the effort around 2015 — it’s prudent to begin planning, Smith told The Gazette after the meeting. The new recommendations have pared down considerably the scope of work on the facilities, he said.

Getting different thoughts and considering different school configurations will give educators more information to create a plan, he said.

That will be an advantage in arriving at the best way to continue the program.