Smith: School plans depend on federal funds

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Carroll Supervisors’ Chairman David Hutchins asked twice at a Jan. 12 meeting to be sure: construction plans for three schools will go ahead only if federal stimulus package monies are made available to the county.

Hutchins asked the first question even before schools Superintendent Greg Smith started a presentation about building a new high school for grades 10-12 and renovating the existing high and intermediate schools to serve grades 8-9 and 6-7, respectively, with dollars from a proposed package to create jobs through “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects.

“Before we begin, so we can make sure we get this absolutely right, the presentation you’re going to make ... is contingent on the stimulus package...” Hutchins led in. Smith confirmed.

The schools superintendent noted that the question of what to do with the nearly 40-year-old Carroll County High School, Woodlawn School with its original 100-year-old section, and Carroll County Intermediate School has been lingering as part of a continuing county-wide facilities improvement program.

Even as his hiring as superintendent was announced in July 2007, Smith indicated that he was surprised by a question about a previous proposal to improve those three schools at a cost of $94 million.

“I almost fell out of my chair because, come to pass, that was not one of the conversations that I had prior to accepting the job,” Smith recalled. “I will assure you this request in this [proposal] is far less shocking and far more cost-effective than what was previously stated.”

A schools construction planning team recommended — and the school board accepted — a plan to build a 900-student high school, possibly in the Woodlawn area; to renovate the existing high school for grades 8-9 and the intermediate school for 6-7; and to reuse Woodlawn School for community and recreational activities.

The option would cost $62.7 million, Smith said.

As an alternative if money is not available for the preferred option, the existing high school would be renovated to house grades 9-12 and the intermediate school for grades 6-8, at a cost of $35.1 million.

Representatives from Pinnacle Architects — Frank Williams, Randy Baker and Jim Watson —  gave an overview and details about options that had been considered.

As proposed, the new high school would have a complete vocational wing, grade pod organization, central offices, cafeteria with performance area, a gym with a visitors’ locker room and an auxiliary gym.

Proposed buildings would have simple exteriors, Williams told the supervisors. “We don’t spend your money to win awards for us.”

That is a mistake made on prior school renovation projects that Carroll County officials would like to avoid, Supervisor Manus McMillian responded.

In previous construction efforts, “a lot of money was put into shot towers,” and other cosmetic work that doesn’t have anything to do with quality of education achieved in the classrooms.

Williams answered that Pinnacle architects feel it’s their job to give teachers a secure, dry, well-lit, climate-controlled place to work with students.

“You see, that’s the thing about it is, we don’t want to make the same mistake again,” McMillian said.

Supervisor Andy Jackson agreed. All he heard after being elected was about money wasted on exteriors of schools.

Planning team members did their research when selecting Pinnacle, Smith said.

McMillian also wanted to avoid the disturbance to classes that St. Paul had when it was renovated.

The new high school would be built first, Smith said. That way, students could be moved there and renovations could proceed on the existing high school.

Supervisor Wes Hurst served on the planning team, and he liked the practical buildings that have been proposed.

He called the renovation idea a great alternative, if there’s not enough money to build a new school.

“As I understand it... we aren’t authorizing any expenditures or anything else ... until you hear back from our legislators” that the federal stimulus package request has been approved, Hutchins asked.

Yes, Smith answered. The information that educators have is that Carroll qualifies under criteria set for schools in the stimulus package.

“The more we hear the more, we like,” the superintendent said.

McMillian moved to proceed with seeking stimulus funds for school construction. It was approved unanimously, after a second from Jackson.

“We worked hard to really make this happen, and we are pleased that we are in a place where we can hopefully vie for the federal funds,” Smith said.