The Amherst County School Board has unanimously approved a resolution supporting the borrowing of millions of dollars for an addition and renovation to the county high school.
The Amherst County Board of Supervisors intends to seek general obligation school bonds not to exceed $35 million to fund a new auditorium, cafeteria and food court renovations, conversion of existing food court space into Career and Technical Education (CTE) uses, upgrades to Lancer Stadium, a new clubhouse adjacent to the baseball and softball fields, and additional parking.
The county plans to apply to the Virginia Public School Authority for loans to fund the largest school construction project in more than 20 years.
The high school renovation and addition project is estimated at about $19.6 million, according to RT Taylor of Davenport & Company LLC, the county’s financial consultant. The VPSA application is due Feb. 28, he said.
Taylor said the amount borrowed is $31 million, with more than $11 million in existing debt under a project the division and county entered into in 2016 to improve infrastructure for heating, air and ventilation in the division. The division clears old debts by refinancing them, such as a home refinance loan, he said.
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“We’re not going to borrow more debt than we need to accomplish the mission,” Taylor said.
County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the county was taking advantage of low-interest loans when it could to fund the project. Taylor told the school board the strategy was to save money.
School board member John Grieser said he appreciates the support of the board of supervisors.
“I’m happy with the [supervisors] support expansion, which includes some CTE programs,” Grieser said. “We need to provide them with the space and the ability to teach them the skills to do that.”
Gary Roakes, divisional maintenance and operations supervisor, said the next six to seven months will involve the design phase of the project and setting up a tender later this year for a general contractor. .
Construction of the new auditorium is expected to begin in mid-2023 and be completed in 2024, a project estimated to take 16 months, according to Roakes. Much of the work is scheduled over two summers while students are away from school, Roakes said.
- At the request of Director of Studies Dana Norman, the board has approved additional remote learning days for the current school year at County High School, two middle schools and the Amherst Education Center. Norman said if the extra days were not made available, the division would have to close the school on those days and not offer distance learning. Norman said no requests would be made for extended remote learning days at the county’s six elementary schools.
- Norman reported that the division recently received a $60,000 grant from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplementary Appropriations Act for a school climate specialist, a contract position for only one year. The specialist will play a critical role in improving student performance by ensuring that each school in the division creates and maintains a positive learning environment focused on supporting and developing each student, according to the division. The specialist will work to facilitate community engagement, develop partnerships with community organizations to support students and their families, and promote a method to co-ordinate academic, behavioral, and home-school-community initiatives and supports in a cohesive manner. The division also recently received $181,555 in federal grants for before and after school programs and summer school. The measures are intended to help close the learning gap, address learning loss and mental health needs during the pandemic, Norman said.
- Roakes said he spoke with the Virginia Department of Transportation and a general contractor about a project that affects the division, the reconstruction of Woodys Lake Road in Madison Heights. The road is heavily used for transportation to Monelison Middle School. Trojan Lane, which intersects with Woodys Lake Road, will be blocked this summer during construction, Roakes said. The division plans to move all summer school-related activities normally at Monelison to other facilities this year, Roakes said.
- The board unanimously approved the division’s 2022-23 school year calendar, which takes effect July 1.