Consensus is a new Hardy Elementary School

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Building a new Hardy Elementary School was the consensus reached by the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors and School Board during a joint meeting Thursday. 

The possibility of building a new Westside Elementary School was also discussed. The two Boards agreed to do a study of Westside similar to the one recently performed on Hardy, which led to the decision to rebuild rather than renovate. 

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The Boards did not take an official vote on rebuilding Hardy or the Westside study, as it was a work session.  

The consensus appeared to come down to the ratio between renovating and rebuilding Hardy, which according to Alpha Corp., the company that performed the study, was a difference of about $9 million. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Alpha estimated it would cost $22.9 million to renovate the nearly 60-year-old Hardy Elementary School building versus $31.8 million for a new facility. 

The typical ratio tipping the scales to either renovate or rebuild is 60-70 percent of the cost of a new building, said Howard Collins, president of the Waller, Todd & Sadler architectural firm.

“We’re at the breaking point,” said Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent James Thornton. 

The new facility would be built on the same site and likely require an additional five acres. 

The Boards discussed using a prototype design, as well as rebuilding Hardy and Westside at the same time to save money. 

Hardy and Westside elementary schools are the two oldest school buildings in the county and both suffer from numerous infrastructure issues, ranging from water and sewer shortfalls at Hardy to reports of mold at Westside, the latter of which has been addressed. 

Last fall, school got off to a late start at Westside due to a failed air-conditioning system, and Thornton said the division currently plans to spend $20,000 to address issues with the water pipes at the school.

Renovating or rebuilding Hardy was also a way to relieve overcrowding at Carrollton Elementary School and that’s why it was first in line for consideration, said Smithfield District School Board member Kirstin Cook, adding that the committee that came up with the division’s long range plans would have liked to have done it all at once, but it was trying to be realistic in terms of cost. 

The school division had also included building a new elementary school in the northern end of the county to address a growing population in that area, but that currently does not appear to be a priority.

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice wants to address Hardy and Westside at the same time to avoid having to go to taxpayers twice as the Board must borrow money for the facilities. 

There was also some discussion of having to use mobile classrooms while construction was underway. The use of mobile classrooms was seen as an undesirable solution to a growing student population during the 2018 budget discussions and they were eventually removed from the county’s fiscal 2019 budget. Instead, fourth graders now remain at Hardy rather than moving onto Westside. 

School Board Chairperson Vicky Hulick, who has children in Isle of Wight schools, said parents are not likely to object to mobile classrooms if they are seen as temporary while new schools are being built. 

Camden said the Westside study could be completed within 45-60 days and that the proposed 2022 opening for the new Hardy Elementary School can still be maintained if the Boards continue moving forward. 

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said Isle of Wight can move quickly on borrowing money as it does not have to hold a bond referendum like most other counties in Virginia. 

In the 1980s, Isle of Wight County residents passed a referendum that gave up the requirement to hold future referendums to borrow money. It was part of a revenue sharing agreement with Franklin concerning International Paper and the threat of annexation.

In Virginia, it is cities that enjoy the ability to borrow money without going to the voters — and Isle of Wight is one of few counties in the Commonwealth that decided to adopt that strategy.  {/mprestriction}