IW considering band, track and field upgrades

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2020

In response to requests from the community, Isle of Wight’s School Board may consider updates to Smithfield High’s fine arts and track and field facilities as part of the division’s upcoming capital improvement plan.

Renovations to the school’s band and chorus areas may cost $2 million to $2.4 million. Replacing the football field’s natural grass with artificial turf will cost an estimated $1.29 million and replacing the track would cost an additional $169,662 for a total of approximately $1.46 million to update the athletic facilities, Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton told the board at an Oct. 21 meeting.

The school board is expected to finalize its long-term capital improvement plan requests in November. The approved requests are then forwarded to the county and reviewed by the planning commission. The commission, in turn, reviews proposals from all of the county’s departments and presents its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

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“To make the band room large enough, we would have to knock down the wall between the band and chorus room and that would become the new band room,” Thornton said. The chorus, in turn, would be moved to an area currently occupied by an art classroom, and art students would also be relocated within the building.

That physical separation is necessary, because the decibel level of the band instruments — the brass and drums in particular — often overpower the voices during chorus rehearsals, which may be in progress right next door.

Thornton said he’s also asked for a quote about installing acoustic dampening panels but that solution would be temporary at best, as it doesn’t address the fact that the current band room is too small for the number of students in the program.

Board member Denise Tynes asked if the chorus could use the auditorium as a classroom. That option probably wouldn’t work, officials said, because the drama class uses the auditorium on a regular basis.

Another option, building a standalone facility on the campus detached from the main school building would probably cost just as much, if not more, than a renovation and reconfiguration of the existing space, the superintendent said.

In the future, the division’s fine arts programs “may explode” in growth, Thornton said, so it’s appropriate to keep these considerations in mind as the division plans for facility needs. “We have an outstanding band program,” he said. “We have a new chorus director who is lighting up the world, and that’s what we want to see.” Board member Vicky Hulick echoed that sentiment.

“If the population continues to grow, we’re still going to need that space,” she said. “The band’s not going to get smaller, the chorus isn’t going to get smaller if we increase the amount of students in the school,” Hulick said.

Smithfield High’s football field hasn’t been significantly upgraded since the 1980s, according to information provided by the division. As a natural Bermuda grass field, it requires regular thatch removal, aerification, weed control, irrigation and mowing. It is the home field for many local teams and activities, including varsity and junior varsity football, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer and field hockey. The band also practices marching on the field, and the cross country team uses the field’s perimeter.

Replacing the grass with turf would increase the hours of field availability and reduce long-term maintenance costs, according to school officials, while investing in a track upgrade could potentially create a source of income. The division said thousands of dollars are missed out on each year by not having the ability to host invitational track meets and regional or state competitions, which can draw up to 3,000 athletes and spectators.

The track and field improvements are based on a previous quote issued for a similar project at Rockbridge County High School, according to division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, and the board, which convened at the Board of Supervisors room in Isle of Wight, did not make any formal decisions about the band room or track and field projects.