2 new schools eyed

Published 8:18 pm Tuesday, February 18, 2020

By Diana McFarland


A new Westside Elementary School to be located next to Smithfield middle and high schools is being considered by the Isle of Wight School Board and Board of Supervisors. 

The two Boards held a joint meeting Feb. 12 and discussed using the current Westside building for other uses.  

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A five-cent real estate tax increase is being eyed to cover the cost of a new Westside, as well as a new Hardy elementary school.

For the median-priced home in Isle of Wight County, that would mean about an additional $260 a year — or $21 a month –  in real estate taxes.

“We’re trying to take care of the kids we have,” said Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman Joel Acree, adding that constituents in the Windsor District appear to support the effort to replace or renovate Hardy and Westside, which are the two oldest schools in the county. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Several members of both Boards spoke in favor of a new Westside over renovation. 

“From cost alone, it’s better to build a new Westside,” said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty. 

Smithfield District School Board member Denise Tynes suggested turning the current Westside into satellite county offices, a senior center, library or new School Board offices. 

The two new schools would be larger, adding capacity in the northern end of Isle of Wight, which has historically had more residential growth — a trend that is being reinvigorated post-recession. 

Isle of Wight County owns 19 acres next to Smithfield Middle School, off Turner Drive, that could be used for the new building, said Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice.

The land is currently being used as sports practice fields, but Grice suggested purchasing some land across Turner Drive for that purpose, and adding an underground tunnel for access. 

The plan is to put grades five through seven in the new Westside, freeing up space at Smithfield Middle School, said Isle of Wight Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton. 

By replacing Hardy and Westside with larger facilities, it would eliminate the need for another elementary school in the northern end of the county, said Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton, adding that locating several schools next to each other has its advantages in terms of efficiencies. 

Plans to build another elementary school in the more populous northern end of the county has long been considered a possibility, but fell out of favor when the Board of Supervisors decided replacing Hardy was a better option. 

Hardy Elementary School

The Isle of Wight County School Board has interviewed six architects for a new Hardy Elementary School, according to Thornton. 

The plan is for school officials to tour a few more schools as possible prototypes, with the last two located in Pennsylvania, said Thornton.

School officials have already toured Florence Bowser Elementary School in Suffolk and also plan to look at Ocean View and Thoroughgood elementary schools in Virginia Beach. 

Prices per square foot ranged from $160 for Winding Creek Elementary in Pennsylvania to $304 for Thoroughgood Elementary — or from $15.5 million to $27.9 million.

Thornton said the School Board wants to narrow it two choices before hiring a construction management firm, and then review the various materials to fit Isle of Wight. 

Thornton said some of the materials going into the Virginia Beach schools are “unbelievable,” but he didn’t know if those are realistic for Isle of Wight. 

“There are so many things that can change the price,” said Thornton. 

Isle of Wight officials are also planning to purchase two parcels next to Hardy to allow for the new facility. 

The property owners are willing to sell, said Keaton. 

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District is laying a sewer line from Surry to Smithfield and this will allow Hardy to hook up to a municipal system, as the pump station will be located nearby, said Keaton. Hardy is currently on a failing septic system.

Keaton said the county is also looking to extend water lines to Hardy, as well as nearby Thomas Park and Tormentor’s Lake, of which the latter are on community systems. 

Hardy was built in 1961 and the oldest part of Westside dates back to 1929. Both schools have been added onto and renovated over the years, but recently it was determined larger fixes were necessary, such as the water and septic system at Hardy. {/mprestriction}