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Roof repair, new schools discussed for PECPS

A joint meeting of the finance committees for the Prince Edward County School Board and the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, March 3, featured a discussion about the leaky roofs of the elementary school and preliminary thoughts about building new elementary and high schools.

Barbara Johnson

Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson presented photos at the meeting of the significant leaks and water damage that occurred at Prince Edward County Elementary School during the recent winter storms when students were not there.

She indicated a meeting has been set up for Wednesday, March 10, with someone who can do an assessment, looking at the elementary school buildings and their roofs and determining what, if anything, can be done.

“We really are at a situation where this is not acceptable,” Johnson said, referencing the leaks and water damage.

She noted that over the past few years, she has had sections of the roofs patched, but her maintenance personnel are telling her at this point there is not a whole lot more they can do.

The elementary school was built in the early 1970s.

“All of the roofs are different over there,” Johnson said. “So are we going to replace all of them? Are we going to replace none of them? Are we going to get a new building?”

Johnson said she and Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting, discussed a capital improvement plan.

“I don’t want you to think that this is the only thing that’s a priority for us,” she said to Stanley of the elementary school roofs, “but this is the major priority — the learning environment at the elementary school.”

Doug Stanley

Stanley said since they talked previously, he has heard from others in the community.

“I know we’ve got the roof needs, there’s talk about maybe needing to replace the elementary school,” he said. “And I’ve heard folks say, ‘If we’re going to make an investment, let’s do the high school.’ So I think we’re just going to have to flesh through those things and prioritize the needs.”

Johnson recalled being asked a question two or three years ago about what she would prefer.

“I said I would love to have a brand new high school, but we need an elementary school,” she said. “So yeah, it would be great to have a (new) high school, but I also recognize that you can’t have everything.”

She said if she were to ask for anything, it would be to do something about the elementary school, even if it is just to renovate portions of it.

“It really depends on how are your bones of your building?” Stanley said. “An architect will tell you. If you can get away with spending a third of the cost and you’ve got a really good building to work with, maybe that’s just a viable option to look at.

“The question might be, do you have the classroom space where you can renovate and shift classrooms around and be able to do the project while you’re occupying the building? If you’ve got that, it gives you more flexibility.”

Johnson said the school division could make that work, if necessary, but she invited Stanley and county supervisors to walk through the buildings. She also highlighted the safety concerns that always surround pre-K through fourth-grade students even under normal circumstances.

She said that when talking about building a new elementary school, she has looked at the costs of 900- and 1,100-student capacities, and the costs proved to be significantly different. She said if Prince Edward had a new elementary school that could fit 1,100 students, she would move fifth grade back to the elementary school.

Stanley estimated a new elementary school would cost around $31 million. A new high school would be either double that or close to double. He pointed out that a community, in a five-year window, is not going to do both of those projects.

“So if you make the decision to replace the elementary school with a new one, you’re putting the high school project off for a decade or more,” he said. “So my encouragement is, let’s think through what the better direction is.

“Obviously, you can’t have a situation like that in the elementary school,” he said, gesturing to an image of the water leaks and damage. “Do we take care of that and look at something else, or is that the priority for the big project and for the board to consider moving forward?”

“Like I said, I fully support a new high school,” Johnson said. “What you can do just with space these days is phenomenal to facilitate learning, so I’m excited about that. But I also know that it would just be wrong and inappropriate to have a brand new high school when I have water stains and water leaking around. You just can’t do it. Something has to happen here. So which is the smaller project and the big project, I think all of that is open for discussion.”