Capital improvement plan includes two new schools

By Kim Walter

In planning for future growth, the Shenandoah County Public Schools capital improvement plan for 2014-2019 includes the construction of two intermediate schools in Strasburg and Woodstock.

Dr. Jeremy Raley, who soon will take over as the division’s superintendent, presented the updated plan during last week’s School Board meeting.

The estimated total cost for both schools is more than $50 million, which includes design, construction, furniture, estimated debt service and interest over time, according to Raley.

“I just want people to remember that this is a planning document,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone, and really, the division has been considering these new schools for a couple years.”

According to the capital improvement plan, the School Board received a report from the Commonwealth Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2006. The purpose of this report was to provide the board with a review of student membership growth as well as five- to 10-year membership projections.

In addition, the report included a review of the planning processes and variables used by the school division in estimating residential housing and student growth. This study also reviewed the division’s campus structure and use of school facilities that included facility capacities based on student program needs.

When this study was commissioned, the fall membership based on Sept. 30 figures was 6,107 students. Over time, this figure has fluctuated. The peak of enrollment was during the fall of 2008 when 6,223 students were enrolled.

On September 19, 2013, there were 6,145 students in the division in grades kindergarten through 12.

Two of the three elementary schools in the division exceed 100 percent of the building capacity as defined by the VCU report.

According to data in the capital improvement plan, W.W. Robinson is over capacity at 104.4 percent, and Sandy Hook is also over capacity at 107.6 percent.

Board member Karen Whetzel said that even though the school population has stabilized for the time being, the two elementary schools remain crowded.

“When you put 1,000 plus students in a building, it is hard to get them all in the library, cafeteria, gym, and other special areas shared by all. We have portable units at Sandy Hook which were supposed to be temporary,” she wrote via email. “Most elementary schools in the state are not as large as our elementary schools.”

Several years ago the school division, with the help of the Board of Supervisors, purchased about 30 acres of land in Woodstock and Strasburg in an effort to plan for the future enrollment needs.

“That was a positive thing,” Raley said of the purchase. “Now we have the land when the time comes.”

The intermediate schools, as described in the planning document, would house students in grades four through six.

If approved by the School Board and Board of Supervisors, work on the two schools would not start until sometime after 2019. Until then, the School Board plans to spend more than $10 million on other capital improvements.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com