ASHLAND — Last May, a group of consultants presented results from a study conducted regarding Hanover County Public Schools’ facilities and the need for renovation or replacement of some of those aging campuses.
The presentation included a list of the 10 facilities in the most need of attention, but prioritizing that list fell to the Hanover County School Board.
Board chair Bob Hundley said that process involved community input, consultation with the Hanover County Board of Supervisors, and workshop sessions.
At the supervisors insistence, the panel worked to establish a prioritized list, and decide a starting point for the long-term improvement project.
Last year’s Capital improvement Plan (CIP) included plans to build a new school in 2022 and funding was dedicated for that purpose.
After that long and detailed process, Hundley confirmed previously reported news that the first step in the process involves the closing of Henry Clay Elementary School and its merger with John M. Gandy Elementary School, a campus identified for replacement.
“Our primary goal during the planning retreat was to prioritize our long-term facility needs, which is what we accomplished,” Hundley said. “We unanimously agreed that our first priority is to consolidate Henry Clay and John M. Gandy Elementary schools. This plan involves closing HCES and building a new school on the same campus where JGES is currently located.”
Hundley said no current students at either campus will be affected by the plans, and noted funding for that project will not be available until 2022.
The next step in the process involves gathering public input regarding the plan.
“As we continue with our process, we want and need community input, Hundley said. “We also want to ensure that our community is fully informed. For that reason, we will be holding a community input session in the near future.”
Dates for that session will be announced and posted on the system’s website.
During a public comment period, board members heard concerns regarding the track at Patrick Henry High School.
Parents, student athletes and concerned citizens said the current schedule for improvements to the aging track are not adequate.
The Patrick Henry track is located on the perimeter of the football practice field. It has not been resurfaced since 2002 and the school has never hosted a track meet, but Liberty Middle School does use the facility for its home meets.
The board’s approved Capital Improvement Plan calls for the track’s replacement and the installation of lights in FY2021, but speakers said students can’t wait that long.
Anne Klinger, vice president of the Patriot Club, an athletic boosters association at PHHS, said the neglect of the track bolsters a perception that the school is not important.
“The perception is the school board doesn’t care about the school. I know for a fact that that’s not true,” Klinger said. “The fact is we have a 60-year-old building that requires capital improvements and staff turnover is affecting our CIP project prioritization.”
The tracks were replaced at Atlee in 2009, Lee Davis in 2015 and Hanover in 2015.
Noah Campbell, former Patrick Henry track star and current University of Richmond track team member, described the condition of the track as “shameful,” and said the surface is a threat to the athletes who run it.
“I’m here tonight because of how bad the situation is,” Campbell said. “It’s atrocious.”
He joined other speakers who pointed to the inability to host home track meets can affect the morale of the team. “It’s disappointing,” he said.
Montpelier resident Andy Bowles has two sons on the track team and said the issue is student safety, and waiting for replacement until 2021 in not a viable option.
Superintendent Michael Gill explained that FY2021 actually begins in summer 2020, but acknowledged the speakers who expressed what he termed “valid” concerns, and said staff and the board will examine those issues.
Gill also addressed the perception raised by some students regarding the neglect of PH issues. “We are proud of all of our schools. certainly that’s the case in terms of investment at Patrick Henry. We have over $1million in projects going on right now at Patrick Henry.”