MCPS faces new projects

By Deanna J.P. Clark

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Despite financial strain, the Montgomery County School Board is weighing its options for upcoming capital projects.

Superintendent Brenda Blackburn stressed the importance of continuing to look to the future regarding facility and maintenance needs.

“Having a plan is good business practice that supports operational efficiency and effectiveness,” said Blackburn. “My staff and I look forward to working with you in this most important planning activity.”

Director of Facilities and Planning Dan Berenato, and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Walt Shannon, helped present information regarding past and future projects that they feel are necessary.

Along with planned projects, about $1.5 million went into the old Christiansburg Middle School for use when the roof of Blacksburg High School’s gymnasium failed.

B. Wendell Jones, chair of the board, noted that this round of capital improvement projects began in 1992.

“So is it fair to say that we probably went about 20 years without really investing in any kind of capital improvement up until about ’92, of significance?” Jones said.

Berenato said that the last round of significant capital projects ended in 1974.

Vice Chair Joe Ivers marveled at the fact that Eastern Montgomery High School cost $15 million to build, and 13 years later the very similar new Auburn High School cost $40 million.

“I want the public to know that we’re struggling with everyone trying to get money for these schools, and in 13 years it’s tripled in cost,” Ivers said.

Ivers later went on to say that he’s more concerned about figuring out how to get all students inside schools, and out of mobile units. He brought up the word redistricting, which upset a few board members.

“I am absolutely, in no way, going to be in favor of moving students out of their communities,” said board member Penny Franklin.

Franklin considers the school groupings as communities, despite the fact that the board commonly refers to them as “strands.”

“How can we add more schools when we have more than enough space for those students at other schools,” Ivers said.

The slideshow prepared by the superintendent’s staff showed four schools as being over capacity: Falling Branch Elementary, Christiansburg Primary School, Christiansburg Elementary School, and Belview Elementary School — all of which are in the Christiansburg strand.

The board agreed the overcrowding and lack of capital improvement showed poor planning on the part of past school boards. The current board is determined to prevent this from happening again.

The hard part, Jones said, is the fact that in order to keep everyone in their own community, it will cost them more money.

Blackburn said another problem was the lack of understanding of why feasibility studies matter. She said without them, the new Auburn High School would most likely have been a year behind where it is now.

The board agreed that the capital improvement priorities should remain as the superintendent’s staff presented them — the critical projects are the Christiansburg elementary schools and Christiansburg High School.

Board members Jamie Bond and Franklin wanted the people of Christiansburg to know that they are looking at issues at their schools next.

Franklin motioned to do a feasibility study on the elementary schools in Christiansburg and CHS, the vote was 5-1 in favor, with Ivers against and Sarah Woolsey absent.