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Sunday, June 2, 2013
On its own, the idea of renaming the reconstructed Blacksburg High School is a bad one.
But the timing of Montgomery County Supervisor Chris Tuck’s proposal to consider a name change is even worse.
Forget the fact that the school will open this fall. Never mind that signs for the new building have been ordered. And don’t even consider that an entire school community’s identity is tied to the name Blacksburg High School, even after a roof collapse that caused the old facility to be condemned.
Pay no attention to those details, as important as they are. Because Tuck really didn’t when he and three of his fellow supervisors voted Tuesday night to ask the school board to consider a new name for the reconstructed high school.
The ill-considered proposal had nothing to do with the interests of a school community. Instead, the supervisors’ 4-2 vote was a poke in the eye of the Blacksburg Town Council, the latest salvo in a clash over plans to sell and redevelop the old Blacksburg Middle School property. Supervisors Mary Biggs and Annette Perkins saw Tuck’s proposal for what it was and voted against it. Supervisor Matt Gabriele missed Tuesday’s meeting.
Tuck acknowledged that his proposal was, in part, born of frustration with the town’s protracted review of the mixed-use Midtown Village plan, which requires rezoning approval from the town council. The supervisors are eager to have the county-owned portion of the property sold and to use the proceeds for future school needs. The town council is adamant that the development adhere to a master plan the town and county adopted for the site in 2011.
A review by the town’s planning and building staff and the consultant who helped write the master plan identified shortcomings in the Fiddler’s Green Partners rezoning proposal. Questions also have been raised about tax incentives the developer wants for the project, which would include apartments, offices, a hotel and restaurant.
Public hearings have been delayed to give Fiddler’s Green Partners time to address issues raised in the staff report. Frustrated by what he perceives as foot-dragging by the town council, Tuck thought he could goose the process by asking the school board to consider a name change for Blacksburg High School.
If the community thinks renaming the school is a bad idea, “then so be it,” Tuck said Wednesday. But the same people who care deeply about the high school’s name also should care about a land transfer that could generate millions of dollars for schools, he said. Tuck wants to stir Blacksburg residents to pressure the town council and demand that it advance plans for the old middle school site. But a tactic that Tuck himself likened to “a bull in a china shop” won’t get them on his side or improve the strained county-town relationship.
On Wednesday, Montgomery County Administrator Craig Meadows sent a letter to Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel asking to restart joint meetings on the redevelopment of the old middle school site. The county also has offered to foot the bill to bring in the consultant who assisted in developing the master plan. Those could be productive steps that advance the dialogue between county and town. Unfortunately, Meadows’ letter was sent the day after Tuck lobbed a cherry bomb into the process.
Montgomery County School Board Chairman Wendell Jones rightly showed no interest in considering a new name for Blacksburg High School or getting dragged into the squabble between the supervisors and the town council. The school board has plenty on its plate. It should not waste a second doing the bidding of county supervisors who substitute gamesmanship for leadership.
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