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IW School Board approves timeline for building expansions

WINDSOR

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted unanimously on Aug. 20 to approve a timeline for the proposed renovation and expansion of Hardy Elementary School and Westside Elementary School. As a result of the vote, the two projects will go before the county’s Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Also included in the approved timeline are plans to renovate the division’s bus garage and to construct a new K-5 elementary school somewhere in the northern end of the county. The renovations to Hardy, Westside and the bus garage are estimated to cost roughly $34 million and the new elementary school, $36 million, for a total of around $70 million.

The now-approved timeline for the projects states that Hardy and the bus garage will be expanded and renovated by 2020 and that construction of the new elementary school will begin in 2022. The renovation of Westside and its conversion into a grades 6-7 middle school is scheduled to begin by 2026. The school division has said that a 6-cent real estate tax increase for all county residents would fully fund each project included in the timeline.

Lynn Briggs, the division’s director of community and media relations, clarified that this does not necessarily mean Isle of Wight County Schools was recommending that taxes be increased. Only the Board of Supervisors has taxing authority, she said.

The renovation projects are intended to accommodate an influx of new students entering the county school system. Earlier this year, Isle of Wight County Schools contracted with the Ohio-based consulting firm Cooperative Strategies to produce a report examining the impact that the build-out of each of the county’s currently approved housing developments could have on the school division. This study predicted that nearly 900 additional students could enter the county’s school system over the next 12 to 13 years, 300 of which are anticipated to arrive within the next four years.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the projects will be added to the county’s Capital Improvements Plan. Briggs said that the division sent the timeline to County Administrator Randy Keaton on Thursday and that the matter should go before the Board of Supervisors sometime in October or November.

Prior to the School Board’s vote on the timeline, former School Board member Herb DeGroft spoke during citizens’ time and questioned the accuracy of Cooperative Strategies’ enrollment projections.

DeGroft, who served on the School Board from 2005 to 2013, and previously as an appointed member from 1995 to 1999, said that he had recently contacted the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, and had received some very different statistics.

He claimed that Weldon Cooper has identified Isle of Wight as one of the 69 percent of Virginia jurisdictions reporting slow increases in overall population since 2008, while experiencing a slow decrease in the number of school-age children.

“Why didn’t Cooperative Strategies use the 2000-2017 historical period when K-12 student numbers went from 4,974 to 5,340?” DeGroft asked. “This 18-year period was impacted by significant residential building from 1990 to 1999, notable by the forementioned numbers resulting in less than a 400-student increase over 18 years.”

“The Weldon Cooper study, that does birth rates, it does not look at developments,” explained School Board Chairwoman Vicky Hulick. “I have been looking at developments… there are developments that are not even in our study. Isle of Wight has never seen a boom like this.”

Speaking to Windsor following the meeting, Hulick added that the birth rates and historical data from Weldon Cooper, while important, were not the only factor the division needed to look at when planning for growth, and said that the division had already realized population increases at some of its schools, particularly at Westside Elementary in Smithfield.

She explained that the division was originally planning on putting trailer classrooms at Westside, which houses grades 4-6, at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, but instead decided to make Hardy Elementary go from K-3 to K-4. However, even after keeping all of Hardy’s rising fourth graders at Hardy, Hulick said, the division still had to add three additional teachers at Westside to accommodate all of Carrollton’s rising fourth graders and grades five and six.

“We’ve saved $500,000 to $1.5 million by moving kids around rather than doing trailers,” Hulick said. “Trailers are not cheap.”