IW schools project in draft capital plan

Published 6:53 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight residents will have a chance to speak out about the School Board’s $77.4 million long-range facilities plan as it makes it way through the county’s budgeting process.

The first public hearing that includes the school division’s long range plan is set for Tuesday, Jan. 22, 6 p.m. before the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission at the Isle of Wight County courthouse complex. 

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The plan, included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, calls for a major renovation and addition to Hardy Elementary School, as well as a new bus garage for the upcoming fiscal year at a combined cost of $19.4 million. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Isle of Wight County Planning Commissioners questioned the cost estimates for renovations at Hardy Elementary and the bus garage, as well as the cost for a new northern elementary school, which is in the CIP for fiscal 2022, at its Dec. 11 meeting. Another concern was sinking millions into renovations at Hardy and Westside elementary schools due to the age of the buildings. 

Several commissioners thought the cost estimates were too high. 

The Hardy Elementary School renovation, at a cost of $13.4 million includes adding classrooms, a new gymnasium and an enlarged cafeteria. 

A new bus garage at a cost of $6 million, would allow enough room for the newer buses, which currently do not fit, as well as a better working environment, according to school officials. 

Also included in the draft CIP is $38 million for a new northern elementary school in fiscal 2022 and another $17.1 million for additions and renovations for Westside Elementary School in fiscal 2025. 

The school improvements are part of overall long-range plans for the division, which ultimately totals about $77.4 million. 

School officials said the cost estimates for the renovations and a new elementary school were based on architectural estimates and not specific designs or plans, nor did it include land costs. 

Commissioner Thomas Duerig referenced school construction data on the Virginia Department of Education website, where the cost for a new K-5 school ranged from $21.1 million to $39.4 million, including land for 2017-18. 

The plans are considered a way to stay ahead of already approved residential housing in Isle of Wight, mostly in the northern end of the county, according to school officials. 

To alleviate crowding at Westside Elementary School this year, school officials decided to retain rising fourth graders at Hardy.

The schools had also proposed adding portable classrooms, or trailers, to accommodate a growing school student population, but those plans were rejected.  

If the plans for renovations at Hardy and Westside elementary school, and the new northern elementary school are completed, the grade levels at several schools will change, said Isle of Wight schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs. 

If all the projects are completed, all elementary schools in the northern end of the county — Hardy, Carrollton and the new northern school — would be K-5, said Briggs.

Westside Elementary School, now grades 4-6, would become grades 6-8, and the Smithfield middle and high school complex would become grades 8-12, Briggs said.

Other CIP projects for fiscal 2020 include $1 million for continuing upgrades at Smithfield High School, $825,000 for public safety apparatus, $50,000 for bleachers at Heritage Park, $200,000 for repairs and replacements at the Jones Creek boat landing and $90,000 for new playground equipment at Carrollton Nike Park. 

The draft plan also includes $6 million as a “placeholder” through fiscal 2024 to accommodate a Community Development Block Grant to establish a public private partnership over the use of the former James River Academy property in Smithfield. 

A study is currently underway to explore possible uses of the site, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

After the Planning Commission makes its recommendation, the draft CIP moves on to the Board of Supervisors for final consideration.  {/mprestriction}