Schools growth means portable classrooms

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

At least one trailer will be placed at Westside Elementary next year to provide more classroom space at the increasingly crowded school.

Isle of Wight County schools superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton made the announcement to the School Board and Planning Commission this week, also noting that the division is scheduling a trailer for Carrollton Elementary School for the 2019-20 school year as well.

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Faced with trailers and a student population congestion that seems to have caught the division largely off guard this year, the School Board voted Thursday to expedite the design plans for the construction of a new school in its northern end.

“I think, all of the sudden, this is real,” said Smithfield District School Board representative Kirstin Cook of trailers needed for schools, stressing that it is only a temporary solution to the problem. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Fees for the design of a new school, which could total as much as $1.8 million, according to Thornton, will be budgeted for three years from now in the division’s Capital Improvement Plan, moved up from five years from now.

A new $22 million elementary school for the northern end of the county was in the division’s CIP prior to Thornton’s administration in 2015, and had little data relating to its inclusion, according to Thornton, nor did it have a fixed implementation date.

Thornton has also said the original cost estimate for the new facility in the CIP was “way off,” and that the cost would be closer to $36 million for a 125,000-square foot elementary school to house up to 1,000 students.

Board Vice Chair and Newport District representative Vicky Hulick, who made the motion to accelerate the design plans, called the need for trailers “sad and frustrating.”

“As a parent, you don’t want to see trailers,” she said. “ … I think this says we need to be moving much faster than we currently are.”

The school division had been projected to lose about 20 students this year. Instead, it grew by 55 overall. Smithfield High School’s student population alone increased by 73 students, and the elementary schools are quickly running out of room.

The CIP presented by Thornton budgets $500,000 for two classroom trailers at Westside for 2018-19 and $500,000 for two trailers at Carrollton for 2019-20.

At Westside, Thornton said the division still isn’t sure exactly where the trailers will be placed. One could go beside the School Board offices, but if more are needed, they could end up infringing on the school’s playground.

Thornton told the Planning Commission Tuesday, Dec. 12 that he had spent his time as Isle of Wight superintendent working on maintaining the division’s current facilities and that the possibility of an additional school “wasn’t our focus.”

Thornton said that the division will form a long-range growth committee to prepare a plan for future expansions, and will host community input meetings in January to hear from the public.

“We want that feedback and we want to bring back a comprehensive plan,” he said.

Capacity at the division’s northern end schools was became a county-wide discussion and debate this fall as developers of Benn’s Grant sought to expand its number of approved housing units, which developers stressed would have little overall impact on the school division, citing a capacity study commissioned by the division last year.

Thornton disagreed with the assertion, arguing that the capacity study cited did not take into account approved housing units in the county when it submitted its relatively low enrollment projections for the schools.

Despite the division’s concerns, East West Communities’ application for 216 additional housing units at Benn’s Grant was ultimately approved by the Planning Commission in November, commissioners criticizing the school division for lacking clear numbers.

“Our goal is to have a solid plan for you,” Thornton said Tuesday.  {/mprestriction}