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Officials talked of building a new high school and converting the old high school to a middle school.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
BEDFORD — For two years since the details of the former city of Bedford reverting to a town were announced, the expectation has been a new middle school would be built for the Liberty attendance zone.
But members of the Bedford County School Board said Thursday they are open to the idea of constructing a new high school for the Bedford area and converting Liberty High School into a middle school. Chairman Gary Hostutler also suggested a possible joint campus, similar to Nelson County’s combination high school and middle school facilities.
Members said they received many emails from residents favoring the idea of a new high school. Several residents also supported it during a public comment portion of Thursday’s board meeting.
Jeff Steele, a Liberty High math and science teacher and parent of two future high schoolers in the zone, said a new high school is a dire need and the county should jump at the opportunity with the reversion agreement mandating a new facility.
“This is our chance to do it right,” Steele said of building the first new county school in years. “I implore you to do it right. As a teacher, I want it. As a parent, I feel we need it. As a taxpayer, I would support it.”
Vice Chairwoman Julie Bennington said from the beginning she liked the thought of a new high school and converting LHS to a middle school. Board member Kelly Harmony, who represents parts of the town, said she also is open to the possibility.
“I’m not opposed to a new high school,” said board member Richard Downey. “I’m a little concerned about the cost. I just don’t know how the financing would work out … certainly it’s an option we really need to consider.”
He estimated a high school could cost $15 million to $20 million more to build. The Bedford County Board of Supervisors, the borrowing agent that has been highly conservative in spending, is hesitant to borrow money for major projects, although the county has committed to leasing Bedford Middle School from the town while a new school is built.
Supervisors have also steadfastly opposed tax increases, faithfully keeping the real estate rate for years at 50 cents per $100 of assessed value. Chairman Steve Arrington said at a meeting this week he does not apologize for the low rate compared with other areas and is in fact proud of it.
Hostutler said he is certain there is public support for a new high school but estimated it would cost an additional $2 million a year in debt, and the division already has a backlog of pressing needs.
“This is going to come down to money,” said Hostutler. “It’s a matter of the funding. I don’t know where we go with this.”
He added he is concerned how the financing for the middle school, the less costly option, would play out. One option is to build a middle school in a way that lends itself to eventually become a high school, he said.
The board recently voted to buy about 50 acres adjacent to LHS for the new school to serve up to 800 students. On Thursday the board moved forward with authorizing the process to solicit offers from firms in providing construction management services for the project, targeted for completion in Aug. 2016.
The board agreed that its members that serve a joint committee should raise the high school possibility with a few supervisors at a meeting next month. Bennington said the board should also urge a public campaign to reach supervisors.
“Maybe they will listen to what the community says,” she said.
In other business, the board decided on about $880,000 in maintenance projects to be paid for from a $1 million appropriation the board of supervisors approved Tuesday for capital improvement needs.
The projects include an elevator at Staunton River Middle, a fuel tank at Staunton River High, a water storage tank at Otter River Elementary and roofs at Forest and Montvale elementary schools.
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