Replacing Westside No. 1 priority under revised five-year plan

Published 4:40 pm Monday, December 5, 2022

Replacing the 1960s-era Westside Elementary would become Isle of Wight County Schools’ No. 1 priority under a revised five-year capital improvements plan up for the School Board’s consideration.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed plan Dec. 8 and is slated to vote on the document Jan. 12.

The hearing is the eighth item listed on this week’s open-session agenda. A closed meeting will begin at 5 p.m., with the open session starting at 6 p.m.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The School Board held a hearing in September on an earlier draft of the plan, which had proposed waiting until the 2025-26 school year to begin replacing Westside, which houses grades 4-6, with a middle school that would house grades 5-7. The grades 5-7 middle school concept was contingent on Carrollton Elementary absorbing Westside’s fourth-grade population.

Carrollton, according to school officials, is at 93% of its 720-student capacity this school year just housing preschool through third grade. Even if the school system were to move some of Carrollton’s population to the new Hardy Elementary slated to open in 2023, it still wouldn’t free up enough space to move Westside’s more than 150 fourth graders, school officials now say.

Second on the school system’s revised list of priorities is school security upgrades. The Sept. 8 draft of the capital improvements plan had proposed adding “vestibules” to all nine schools’ lobbies next school year at an estimated cost of over $900,000. A vestibule entails creating an enclosed area at a school’s main entrance where visitors would need to check in with the school’s office before interior doors allowing access to the rest of the building are unlocked.

Prior to Sept. 8, the work had been slated for the 2025-26 school year and budgeted at $290,000 based on estimates the school system received nearly two years ago. The School Board revisited the vestibule concept in July in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

Replacing the school system’s bus garage for $2 million is now proposed as the No. 3 priority. In the Sept. 8 draft, the project had been slated to occur sometime after the 2027-28 school year. In the No. 4 slot are proposed renovations to Smithfield High School’s and Windsor High School’s track and football fields. The Sept. 8 draft had proposed replacing Smithfield High’s grass football field with artificial turf next school year at an estimated cost of $2.4 million.

In the No. 5, 6 and 7 slots, respectively, are expanding the school system’s career and technical education program, expanding the preschool program, and upgrading Smithfield High’s and Windsor High’s baseball facilities. In last place, at No. 8, are renovations to Smithfield High’s band and chorus rooms. The project, as of Sept. 8, had been slated for the 2026-27 school year at $1.3 million.

Four parents and two students spoke at the Sept. 8 public hearing to advocate for moving up the date of the proposed band and chorus renovations, though the proposal finished fourth out of six extracurricular-related projects in the school system’s survey of 260 county residents.