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Homework needed on new Galax school

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By The Gazette

For the past few weeks, members of Galax City Council have considered a major decision: should they grant a conditional use permit to the Galax school system to build a new elementary school?
There is little doubt that Galax needs a new elementary school to replace an aging facility that would be difficult to expand. However, opinions have been divided as to where the new building should be constructed. The school system is looking at a parcel of land with enough space for construction at the edge of Kipling Lane, but the downside is that the school would share a neighborhood where many residents have voiced an aversion to the proposal.
So far, there have been some intense discussions between council members and school representatives, and there have been plenty of opportunities for the community to voice opinions.
Council has yet to make a final decision, and despite the fact that both sides are anxious for a verdict, taking time to carefully consider this request and its ramifications is the smart move.
Building a new school is a big decision in and of itself, but council members seem to recognize the added responsibility of considering both sides of the controversial argument that surrounds the proposed location.
They are aware that no decision they make will please everyone, and they should look at both sides carefully, because of their loyalty to both the community and the school system.
On one hand, it’s understandable that the neighbors who have made their homes in what they thought was a quiet location are jarred by the possibility of heightened traffic, noise and changes to their view that could result from sharing the neighborhood with a school.
On the other hand, Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill makes a good point that educators will have a hard time finding an adequate parcel of land that does not touch a local neighborhood in some form or fashion.
Here are some things for both sides to consider:
• The city’s three schools are surrounded on all sides by residences, and Sturgill has stated that the schools work well with the community to keep the peace downtown. It could be instructive to ask neighbors what it has been like to live next to the existing schools.
• There is one argument that the existing elementary school could simply expand outward or upward, but Sturgill has confirmed that the structure is too poor to hold up any new renovations if floors were added on top. Plus, GES is essentially “land-locked” with little room for outward expansion.
• Council members have expressed concern that splitting the schools up would take away the convenience of having all three in a central location. Perhaps, but is that convenience at the expense of having a better school?
To be sure, city council and the planning commission have much to consider. At the end of each session, council members have found themselves with additional questions, which they rightfully want answered before they cast their votes.
Time is a factor, as the school system’s option on the property could run out, but this is not a decision to be made hastily.
There’s a saying in construction that applies here: “Measure twice, cut once.”
We urge the school system and the city to take as much time as needed to sort out all the variables before making a decision.