By Kim Walter
FRONT ROYAL -- The Warren County School Board will soon have to start making decisions on the design of a second middle school.
Ballou Justice Upton Architects presented their first sketches of the building, including interior layout and possible traffic patterns, during a recent special work session and retreat.
The second middle school is tentatively scheduled to be built at the intersection of Happy Creek Road and the proposed Leach Run Parkway. The site straddles town and county boundaries.
Once built, the school should house sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, freeing up space for Warren County Middle School to take on an equivalent student population.
When first discussing plans for a second middle school, the School Board decided to make both buildings as equal as possible.
In order to ensure that, the architecture firm conducted interviews with administration and faculty members at the current middle school in order to determine what a similar facility would need.
As board members looked over the proposed layout and design, they seemed pleased. The drawings portrayed a classic exterior, similar to that of Warren County Middle School. A variety of classrooms were included, like those for core classes, vocational training, journalism, teen living and a media center.
The design also included a full-scale auditorium, complete with back and side stage areas and permanent seating.
School Board member Kim Athey said she had supported an auditorium at the new school, since the current middle school has one. However, she and other School Board members began to question the necessity.
According to Fred Hughes, one of the presenting architects, Warren County Middle School's auditorium was only used 12 times during school hours during the course of a school year.
"The principal told me he used it, because it was there," he said. "Now, did he need it? I'm not sure."
Hughes said surrounding school districts have elected to use a miniature version of an auditorium, like a raised platform in a student commons area, or a cafetorium concept.
If approved, the 500-seat auditorium would cost close to $3.5 million.
Athey said she wanted to find out the seating capacity of smaller stage areas like those at two of the county's elementary schools.
"I know the stages are used more for after-school performances and things like that," she said. "So we have to make sure that if we don't go with a full-on auditorium, there's at least room for what it's used for."
Hughes reminded the board that there would still be construction and material costs associated with an auditorium substitute. Other options would require the purchase of additional chairs, storage space and some kind of stage or platform.
"Just because you're building half as much, doesn't mean you're spending half as much," he said.
Athey said she wanted to make sure that students at the new school would be able to conduct activities and performances there, instead of seeking another, better suited venue.
"I think we can do that without this huge auditorium," she said. "We just have to make sure we're still honoring our promise of equity between these two schools."
The board asked for more information on what neighboring divisions are using to take the place of an auditorium. Members need to approve a final decision on the space as soon as possible so the architecture firm can move forward with the process.
The next Warren County School Board meeting is 7 p.m. Aug. at the county's government center.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org