Hardy Elementary: rebuild or replace?

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tour has supervisors questioning upgrade wisdom

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A tour of the nearly 60-year old Hardy Elementary School has the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors reevaluating whether or not renovating the building is the wisest use of taxpayer money. 

The current building does not have access to municipal water and sewer, the property has drainage issues and a routine feature, such as a sprinkler system, is not available. 

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Board members are also concerned that the aging plumbing may need to be replaced.

Board Chairman William McCarty said he was “shocked” that a critical system, such as the plumbing, wasn’t investigated by the school division prior to proposing the renovation and expansion of Hardy.

Some on the Board are beginning to think that replacing Hardy may be the route to take, particularly District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Jefferson not only wants Hardy replaced, he wants the new school to remain in the Hardy District. 

McCarty describes the situation another way, “Why do a facelift when you have a bunch of broken arteries,” he said. 

Hardy does not have a sprinkler system because it was not required when the school was built, and as long as the use remains the same, the building is held to the code it was under when it was constructed, said schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

The renovation includes the cost of a sprinkler system or fire walls, but the division needs to investigate the water source at Hardy to see if it could support a wet fire suppression system, said Briggs. 

The school is served by a well and septic system. 

The Isle of Wight County School Board has approved a long-range plan that calls for putting $14.4 million toward expanding and renovating Hardy Elementary School beginning the next fiscal year. The plan also calls for spending $5.2 million for a new bus garage. 

Not included in the price is work to assess the plumbing at Hardy, which the architect estimated would cost $10,000. To replace Hardy is estimated at $27 million. 

Other items in the plan include renovating Westside Elementary School and adding a new elementary school in the northern end of Isle of Wight, where development is occurring. 

Hardy and Westside, both located in the northern end of Isle of Wight are the county’s two oldest school buildings. Hardy was built in 1961 and Westside dates back to 1929, when it used to be the Isle of Wight Training School for black students prior to desegregation. The current school building has since been expanded and added onto over the years, and it has its own set of aging problems. 

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree agrees that Hardy needs work, but is concerned that renovations on Westside are being pushed out to fiscal 2025 — behind the bus garage and the new elementary school. 

Based on phone calls he receives from teachers concerning mold and other issues, Acree thinks Westside needs more immediate work. 

“My concern is still with Westside,” he said.

The reason why renovating the bus garage was put before renovating Westside was based on a decision by the Long Range Planning Committee, who helped devise the long range plan, said Briggs. 

It was after seeing the conditions that the mechanics had to work under, such as not being able to close the bay doors to work on the buses in extreme heat or cold, that the decision was made, said Briggs. 

Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight Planning Commission moved the Westside renovation up in the capital improvement plan, ahead of the new northern elementary school, said Briggs.

Originally, the new elementary school was before the Westside renovations to make it easier to do the work, said Briggs. 

If the Board of Supervisors approve that move, the schools would need to revisit the original plan when it comes to actual work at the building, she said.

As for the mold, several rooms were tested last fall and one tested positive for mold, said Briggs, adding that the source was water damage from standing water outside the building.

The students and teacher were moved to another room and the abatement process was initiated, said Briggs. 

When that was completed, the room was retested, as well as in other areas of the building, and the tests did not find any other elevated levels of mold within the building, she said. 

There has also been additional work around the building to prevent standing water and the school has not reported any additional flooding since this incident, said Briggs. 

Schools in Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight County has nine public school buildings. The newest buildings — Carrsville and Windsor elementary schools, Georgie D. Tyler Middle School and Windsor High School are located south of the courthouse, dating from 1994 to 2014.  

Carrollton Elementary School was built in 1993, but Hardy and Westside are more than 50 years old and Smithfield High School is getting older too and is pushing 40, having been built in 1980. 

The newer schools were built in response to aging, outdated structures as well as crowding.

Carrsville Elementary School was built in 1996 and the old school, which dated to 1923, was torn down. Only the old gym remains. 

At one time there was an effort to build an elementary school between Windsor and Carrsville to serve both areas, and close Carrsville. 

That idea met with a good deal of opposition from Carrsville patrons and the plan was abandoned.  

Instead, Windsor Elementary was built between the courthouse and the Town of Windsor. At the same time an addition was added to Hardy.

Windsor High School was originally built to house both the high and middle schools, and before the decision was made to build Georgie Tyler, county officials again looked at moving grades 7-8 back to the high school and send the sixth graders to Carrsville.

That idea was met with much public opposition, and paired with the crumbling Windsor Middle School building, the decision to build Georgie Tyler was made. 

Shortly after Carrollton Elementary School was built in 1993, there was concern it would become overcrowded, so some students were rezoned to Windsor Elementary. 

Smithfield High School was originally built without an auditorium, but that was added when the county built Windsor High School. 

Smithfield Middle School was built in 2005 to delay an expansion at Smithfield High School. When the decision was made to build the middle school, school officials also reconfigured the grades in the northern end schools to what they are today. 

This school year, fourth graders at Hardy stayed there instead of moving on to Westside to reduce crowding there. 

Facilities matter

During the discussion over what to do with Hardy, Isle of Wight County Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton characterized Hardy as the county’s highest poverty school. 

The students there need opportunity and accessibility, said Thornton, adding that studies have shown that facilities do shape student outcomes. 

At some point, Hardy will become a place where no one wants to go, he said, adding that situation occurred when he was working in another school district. 

Isle of Wight County schools Executive Director, Curriculum and Instruction Susan Goetz was the principal at Georgie Tyler when it opened in 2014. 

The old Windsor Middle School was plagued with multiple problems, including windows simply falling out of their frames, said Goetz.

When Georgie Tyler opened, the students had pride in the new building and were pleased with what the county had done for them, she said.  {/mprestriction}