Board mulls $10 million school board request

Published 2:40 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Loan would pay for CTE initiative

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors decided to further explore a request for a $10 million loan by the school system at an upcoming work session. 

The $10 million loan request to pay for substantial upgrades and a new Career and Technical Education program at the county’s two high schools was requested by schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton at Thursday’s board meeting.

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The loan, which would have a 20-year term, would be paid back with a portion of the money now used to fund Isle of Wight’s participation at The Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk, according to Thornton. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Isle of Wight County currently allocates $952,000 a year to The Pruden Center. The debt service on the loan would be paid with through a portion of that money — $750,000. The remaining $200,000 would pay for new instructional staff, said Thornton.

And while part of the plan unveiled with much fanfare earlier this month includes a $3 million donation by Smithfield Foods, the donation is not contingent upon the other upgrades and programs included in the $10 million request.

Smithfield Foods plans to specifically pay for a new JROTC field house, a multi-purpose building and a makerspace at Smithfield High School.

“This is well-planned and paid for,” said Thornton, and compared his request to other debt that is based on the hope that development occurs over time to pay for it, and doesn’t, but the county is still stuck with the bill.

Thornton told the Board he was also trying to find other sources of revenue.

“I’m trying to do these things without coming up here saying, gimme, gimme, gimme,” he said.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty was concerned about taking on another loan, given that Isle of Wight County is one of the most indebted counties in the state.

In 2015, Isle of Wight had the distinction of having the fifth highest per capita net debt among Virginia counties, and at the time, carried a debt load of $218.5 million in principal and interest, or $5,993 per capita. Since then, the county has taken out another $8 million bond to pay for the new public safety radio system.

McCarty wanted a mechanism that ensured that the $750,000 debt service payment didn’t somehow end up getting absorbed in the county’s operating budget 10 years down the line, as new supervisors and school board members come along, as well as new county and school staff. 

Isle of Wight County Attorney Mark Popovich said that could be done using a resolution or memorandum of agreement.

“That’s a relatively simple thing to do,” he said.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson wanted to know what happens, given the length of the loan, when a new superintendent comes along and wants to change everything.

Thornton said a new superintendent would have to “have a good argument” for doing that as “we are in line with the future and where it’s going.”

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree wanted to know how involved the School Board was in developing this plan, as well as the life span of the myriad of equipment that goes along with a CTE program featuring a mechatronics lab, commercial grade kitchen and other high tech equipment.

How is the cost of upkeep figured in when the schools struggle to keep the basics functioning?” Acree asked.

Acree was referring to a discussion earlier in the evening when Thornton outlined the status of several maintenance projects that had been scheduled over the past couple of years.

See related story page xxx.

Thornton said the issue of equipment replacement would have to be addressed.

McCarty pointed out that it was “alarming” that only one School Board member was present for the discussion.

Newport District School Board Representative Vicky Hulick was present and regularly attends Board of Supervisors meetings.

The Board also questioned the timing of the presentation as the annual budget season is quickly approaching and a bond issue requires a public hearing.

Thornton said he was prepared to present his plan last October, but when Foods became involved, it changed the schedule.

Thornton said Foods did not want the presentation of its donation to get lost in the Christmas hustle and bustle and that was the reason for the public pep rally held at Smithfield High School on Feb. 9.

In hindsight, the details of the plan could have been presented to the School Board in closed session, but the schools didn’t want to jeopardize the Foods funding, Thornton said.


What the $10 million would be spent on


•At Smithfield High School


Construction of a career building $2.5 million

Construction of a football field house $1 million



Nursing lab equipment $35,000

Welding equipment $50,000

Warehouse equipment $140,000

Food service equipment $310,000

Dining area seating $75,000

Mechatronics equipment $500,000


Other items

Collaboration/recording studio $155,0466

Exercise/fitness room $238,712

cafeteria remodel $153,000

*Project estimates do not include contingency costs


•At Windsor High School

Farm and barn at Windsor Elementary School $972,713

Greenhouse $268,800

Construction lab $397,000

Outdoor science classroom $24,000

Art courtyard $47,150

Outdoor dining area $131,000



Cafeteria $32,000

Drama room $144,000

Media center $376,750



Media center furniture $141,000

Cafeteria furnishings $105,000

Pickup truck/tractor $21,000

Science classroom equipment $4,800 (variable)

*Project estimates do not include contingency costs


•What Smithfield Foods is paying for at Smithfield High School

JROTC building $1 million

Makerspace $460,900

Multi-use pavilion $1.4 million

*Foods donation not contingent upon creation of new Career and Technical Education program  {/mprestriction}