‘Our kids deserve this’

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2020

IW residents favor building new Hardy Elementary

Even though it may result in a 4-cent tax increase, all Isle of Wight residents who spoke during the county’s public hearing on Sept. 10 said they favored proceeding with plans to borrow $36 million to build a new Hardy Elementary School.

In August, Isle of Wight’s Capital Improvements Plan Committee met with representatives of the county’s financial advising firm, Davenport & Company, to discuss taking on $64.3 million in new debt to fund Isle of Wight’s five-year capital improvements plan. Of this, $57 million was proposed to go toward replacing two 1960s-era schools: Hardy and Westside Elementary.

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, that plan has since changed. Now, it calls for borrowing up to $36 million, most of which would go toward replacing Hardy with a school capable of housing upwards of 800 students in grades K-4. In 2022, when the new Hardy is slated to open its doors, the county plans to borrow additional funds to replace Westside, which is currently grades 4-6, with a middle school capable of housing more than 1,100 students in grades 5-7.

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The 4-cent tax increase should cover the debt for both schools, Robertson said. When both new schools are completed, Smithfield Middle School, which is currently grades 7-8 and adjoins Smithfield High, would become one school with grades 8-12.

Isle of Wight County had the eighth highest debt per capita in Virginia at the start of 2019, with its annual debt payments reaching a high of $12 million that year. According to projections Davenport gave the county in August, borrowing the full $64.3 million discussed that month would have caused the county’s annual debt payments to rise to a new high of nearly $15.5 million by 2027 and not return to 2020 levels until 2031.

During the hearing, Ruth Murray of Smithfield presented Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors with a petition signed by 30 county residents in favor of building a new Hardy. Speakers included parents and Hardy employees, as well as volunteer rescue squad personnel whose capital needs will also be funded by the new debt.

“There is no other way to go besides rebuilding Hardy and I hope that with all of these signatures and with all of the people that have put their time in that you would consider rebuilding Hardy,” Murray said.

“Our kids deserve this; it is time,” said Hardy Assistant Principal Laura Dewees.

Following the hearing, Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with borrowing the $36 million, and also voted to refinance nearly $48 million in existing debt at a lower interest rate, which is projected to save the county about $6.2 million. This is why the proposed tax increase is now 4 cents rather than the 5 discussed in August. County officials added that the 4-cent tax increase may be lowered further depending on what growth occurs among the county’s tax base.

Isle of Wight County Schools is planning to model the new Hardy off of Florence Bowser Elementary in Suffolk, and are considering Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County as a potential prototype for Westside’s replacement. Manchester is the same basic design as Isle of Wight’s Georgie D. Tyler Middle School in Windsor but can house about twice as many students.