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MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
The new Blacksburg High School in Blacksburg on Monday. Two Montgomery County High School building projects, Auburn and Blacksburg, are on schedule and on budget to be opened for the 2013-14 school year ]
Sunday, August 25, 2013
The noisy debates and painful decisions are history. When classes begin at new high schools in Blacksburg and Riner on Sept. 4, those communities can leave behind the agonizing process of getting the facilities built and turn the page to a new chapter.
In Riner, the opening of the new Auburn High School on Virginia 8 is an important milestone for a community that waited too long for critical school upgrades.
The completion of the new high school is the first of two upgrades for the Auburn strand of schools. The former high school will be converted into a new Auburn Middle School, a project that is expected to be completed in November 2014.
In Blacksburg, the new high school on Prices Fork Road should provide a sense of permanence for a school community that was uprooted after the gymnasium roof collapsed at the former Blacksburg High School in 2010 and the school division closed the facility.
The new Montgomery high schools have modern design features that students, parents and teachers should expect. Roanoke Times reporter Mike Gangloff noted in a July 2 story that both schools will have the benefits of new classroom technology for instruction and electronic locking systems that enhance security.
And both facilities were built to accommodate future enrollment growth. The $40 million Auburn High School will have 379 students enrolled. It was built with an initial capacity of 600 students and with core facilities that allow it to be expanded to hold 800.
The $63 million Blacksburg High School will have an enrollment of 1,161 and an initial capacity of 1,400. It can be expanded to accommodate 1,600.
Construction crews worked feverishly over the last two years to get the schools ready for this fall. Fortunately, they encountered few major weather delays along the way.
If only the political climate in Montgomery County could have been less stormy.
There were no easy decisions to be made and no way to sidestep controversy after the Blacksburg High gym roof collapsed in February 2010.
School officials were forced to make temporary arrangements for Blacksburg students, moving high school students into Blacksburg Middle School and middle school students to a campus in Christiansburg.
For the long term, the county had to decide whether to renovate the damaged high school or build a new one, and whether to delay plans for the Riner schools. All this in a shaky economy.
After heated debates, the county ultimately approved a $124.5 million construction package that includes the two new high schools and the conversion of the old Auburn High School to a middle school.
County supervisors took heat last year when they raised the real estate tax rate by 12 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for construction debt. The board tacked on another increase of 2 cents this year to make a downpayment on future school construction needs.
The difficult budget decisions didn’t put an end to the political skirmishing over school facilities.
Supervisor Chris Tuck stirred the pot in May when he suggested that the school board consider a different name for the new Blacksburg High School. Three supervisors went along with Tuck’s proposal, which was viewed as a swipe at the Blacksburg Town Council in a clash over plans for the old Blacksburg Middle School property.
The school board wisely wasted no time considering a new name, and Tuck later acknoweldged there was no community support for the idea.
Now it’s time to leave the controversies behind and look forward to a new school year.
Montgomery County’s new high schools should inspire community pride. Hopefully, their opening also will promote healing.
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