By Kim Walter
After an hour's worth of public comments and additional discussion among board members, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors approved the Edinburg School project.
The agenda items -- consideration of a comprehensive agreement with Caldwell Santmyer for design build services for the Edinburg School and Historic Courthouse, consideration of a lease agreement between the county and Charterhouse School to provide educational services, and consideration of a resolution to ratify, approve and confirm the issuance and sale of up to $4.5 million in Virginia revenue bonds to be sold to the Virginia Resources Authority -- all received a 5 to 1 vote, with board member John Neese being the only one to oppose each item.
Several citizens supported the project, but many voiced opposition, asking the board why the former Community Christian School in Woodstock, which closed earlier this year, could not be used for Charterhouse's uses. Many citizens went over their allotted speaking time, and voiced concern over taxes increasing.
Superintendent B. Keith Rowland addressed the board, listing reasons why that school building would not be sufficient. Board member Sharon Baroncelli noted that while that building did not meet the needs for Charterhouse, which will cater to students with autism and severe emotional disabilities, it is still a "beautiful" building, and could serve another business. One speaker threatened to not pay taxes if the project was approved.
Rowland explained that in order to meet the requirements and codes of the state's public school system, class sizes needed 75 square feet per student. While classes are 400 square feet in the Community Christian School, each room would need an added bathroom, which would take away 100 square feet. Also, while 10 classrooms were identified, for space needs, a wall would need to be knocked down between each, taking the number down to five classrooms.
Outside air is also required, which is not available in that building. Rowland said the kitchen is also not large enough for its proposed use, as it would need to be an additional 600 square feet larger. The ceilings are all 8 feet in height, and to meet code, they would need to be 9 feet high.
Rowland said Charterhouse also communicated that it would not be interested in the Community Christian School building for the proposed educational needs for other reasons, like there being no place for a horticulture class. Additionally, the county does not own the building, so it would be entirely up to Charterhouse to undertake the purchase of it, Rowland said.
"There are more than just cosmetic issues to deal with," he said.
Board member David. E. Ferguson addressed the citizens before voting took place.
"I don't think anyone can question the need to provide a quality education and safe environment for these students," he said. He also said that the project would employ county residents, and the revenue from Charterhouse paying rent at the Edinburg School would pay for the renovation, therefore not causing a rise in taxes.
Baroncelli agreed, saying "the project pays for itself."
Neese stated the reason he voted against the project as being that he can't "roll the dice on the money," as the contract can be exited by Charterhouse with 365 days notice.
Representatives from United Methodist Family Services addressed board members and said that not only did they plan to stay for the full 30 years of the contract, but it could be more. In the first year in the county, the business will put about $1 million into establishing the program.
"This is a contract with a viable organization," Supervisor Dennis Morris said. "These students will have a prom, a homecoming ... they deserve as much as any other child in the county."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org