School Board, supervisors discuss long-term plan
WOODSTOCK – A proposed long-term facilities master plan for the county’s school division was the topic of debate at a Tuesday meeting of the Shenandoah County School Board and Board of Supervisors.
The master plan is a 25-year road map for how the school division may look in the future.
Consultants Tracey Richter, CEO of DeJong-Richter, and Mike Ross, of HBA Architecture, along with Matt Sachs, a GIS analyst with DeJong-Richter, recommended a system of four elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools for Shenandoah schools.
Richter said the plan was based in large part on community feedback, including the request for more equitable programming at the southern campus in Quicksburg, which hasn’t occurred due to a smaller population of students at the southern campus.
By consolidating the middle and high schools, he said, costs can be saved by reducing the number of schools in the county.
But Supervisor and Vice-Chairman Richard Walker said the district’s current campus model developed in the 1990s from a need to depart from its previous model that included satellite schools. Furthermore, he said, leaving the campus model doesn’t work for the geography of Shenandoah County.
“I have a real problem seeing how this is going to give us efficiencies,” Walker said of the long-term plan. “I think it’s going to do just the opposite.”
Ross disagreed, saying the campus model has led to high schools that are underutilized and elementary schools at capacity.
Supervisor Cindy Bailey offered changes to the current grade configuration in the school division. She proposed removing preschool from the elementary schools, as they were not designed to house preschool, and moving the fifth grade to the middle schools and eighth grade to the high schools, which she said was the initial intention.
But Richter said changing the grade configuration would require changing the curriculum vision and class scheduling at the middle and high schools, which could increase programmatic costs.
Ross said grade reconfiguration was not a popular option in previous community discussions.
School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said the board hasn’t made a final decision on the plan, but would set a date to determine its options after further discussions with consultants and community members.
Supervisor Marsha Shruntz recommended the School Board reject the presented facilities plan.
“I would like to suggest, on behalf of myself and the constituents in the fifth district, that you vote against this plan,” she said.
She also asked the consultants, “When do you pack up and leave Woodstock?”
Asked if online education might be in the future of Shenandoah County, Richter said it’s an idea other school districts are implementing because it can provide additional programs that can’t be offered in the classroom.
“More and more kids will go to that opportunity because it offers them something they can’t do,” he said. “We have to be considerate in the long term.”
It also may reduce building size in the future, as less students will be using traditional classrooms.
Reducing building size now “doesn’t make sense in today’s world quite yet, but we’ll get there and I think that has to be factored in the long-term goals so you don’t need to put so much money into the bricks and mortar that you have out there,” Richter said.
However, any money saved would need to be invested in providing the technology, he said.
School Board member Katheryn Freakley noted that the school division is behind in providing an adequate number of technological resources to all students, and it needs to catch up to demands.
The long-term facilities master plan for elementary schools recommends replacing Sandy Hook Elementary School during Phase 1 in six to 10 years. W.W. Robinson Elementary School would receive capital renewal and educational adequacy renovations with potential replacement in 15 to 20 years. Ashby Lee Elementary School would close after the constructions of a new high school, a replacement to Sandy Hook, and the conversion of two middle schools into elementary schools.
The plan also recommends Signal Knob Middle School receive capital renewal and educational adequacy renovations with a 200-seat addition for increased capacity. Peter Muhlenberg Middle School and North Fork Middle School would be converted to elementary schools and receive capital renewal and educational adequacy renovations with a 150-seat addition for increased capacity in each building.
Also recommended are capital renewal and educational adequacy renovations for Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson high schools.
Strasburg would get a 100-seat addition for increased capacity with potential replacement in 25 or more years.
Stonewall would be converted to a middle school, with a potential for replacement in 25 years or so. A new high school would also be constructed with a 900-seat capacity in a centralized location between current central and southern campuses in Woodstock and Quicksburg.
Central High School would be converted or renovated for Triplett Tech and alternative education, and serve as the new construction site for a community recreation, performing arts and aquatics center.
The recommendation stated: “Moving to four elementary schools, with an average capacity of roughly 700, will allow for smaller school sizes at the elementary level. In order to accomplish this, construction of the new high school must take place in the first phase. This frees up Stonewall Jackson High School to be used as a middle school and Peter Muhlenberg Middle School and North Fork Middle School to be used as elementary schools.”
This facilities plan for Shenandoah County schools would cost an estimated $188,700,726. Costs for replacement buildings in 15 years or later are not included.
“It should be noted that the 25-year capital renewal cost of a facility could potentially be lessened in this recommendation, if it were replaced less than 25 years in the future,” the recommendation said.
The complete long-term facilities master plan is available on the school division website at http://shenandoah.k12.va.us/.
Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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