Board discusses facilities at work session

WOODSTOCK – At a Tuesday work session, the Shenandoah County School Board discussed its long-term facilities master plan.

The proposed plan for the school division is a 25-year road map for the future of the division’s schools.

Superintendent Mark Johnston said the board needs to carefully look at the information, decide the next steps, and feel comfortable with the decisions they make in coming months regarding the plan.

A system with four elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools was previously recommended by consultants Tracey Richter, CEO of DeJong-Richter, and Mike Ross, of HBA Architecture, along with Matt Sachs, a GIS analyst with DeJong-Richter.

The plan would cost an estimated $188,700,726. Costs for replacement buildings in 15 years or later are not included.

The detailed plan can be found on the school division website at http://shenandoah.k12.va.us/.

Richter said community feedback over the last several months has also shown a desire for a centralized performing arts and community recreation and aquatics center.

Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said she believes this is the best plan for the community.

“It’s going to equalize educational opportunity for all of our students. It’ll provide facilities in the future for the type of teaching and learning that will best serve all of our students,” she said. “We have to think about what we want for the future. We can’t just think about now or yesterday.”

“From having our career and technical opportunities more centralized. Having our elementary schools with the number of students that works best for learning at that level. The recommendation makes sense to me. And as an educator who did spend 38 years in this school division and a school board who continues to learn, I spent a lot of time and reflection and I feel like this is a plan that will serve our students the very best in the future.”

Board member Katheryn Freakley said a benefit of the plan is savings in operational costs of $1 million by going from 10 division schools to nine. These savings can provide equipment and programs that students and staff want.

The plan provides direction and guidance for the next 25 years, she said, and shows forward thinking by the school division and the community.

“I think it’s only fair to our community that we have some sort of strategic, thoughtful planning in place,” she said.

Board member Cynthia Walsh said the board needs to be able to rethink how to provide education and evolve as standards change, something the proposed plan would allow.

She said stable facilities will help do this by providing space for the sort of opportunities the Virginia Department of Education frequently updates in their Standard of Quality.

Unfortunately, she said, because school staff have managed the schools well with what they have, it can appear as if the division doesn’t have problems.

“We have so much more that we can offer if we had the resources,” she said.

Vice chairman Rick Koontz said the plan was well thought out by the consultants and the steering committee.

But the plan can’t be carried out on community support alone, he said. It also needs support and funding from the Board of Supervisors.

“To get this funded comes down to six people and somehow we have to get those six people to allocate the funds to be able to move forward with this plan. I think that’s the challenge,” he said.

Studying transportation challenges of the plan is also important, said board member Irving Getz.

Seth Coffman, a steering committee member who has been a part of the process since the SPACE committee two years ago, said the plan can also be changed as demographics and population change in the county over the next several decades.

Basically, Freakley said, the plan provides a roadmap for the division, board members and staff to use in coming years.

Forward thinking and continued support is needed now and in the future through the willingness to support and value education in the division, she said.

Johnston said that the boundary adjustment completed at the start of this school year helped to provide small relief in overcrowding and allowed for more educational opportunities at the southern campus, but it is a short-term solution.

Other options were considered before the boundary adjustment, such as moving fifth grade into middle schools and eight grade into the high schools, but Freakley said they didn’t receive much community support at the community meetings and also didn’t move enough students to provide the overcrowding relief.

She said that the most favored choice was year-round schooling but couldn’t be implemented before the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Whetzel said the long-term facilities master plan will be an informational agenda item at their next board meeting at 7 p.m. next Thursday and a decision to accept or not accept the plan will be made in the coming months.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.