Last week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and school board met to discuss the schools’ capital improvements plan, focusing mainly on the idea of reopening the currently mothballed school located on Rt. 20 in Locust Grove.
“You wouldn’t open a school for one classroom,” Orange County District 2 Supervisor Jim White suggested during the meeting.
The response? Well, yes, you would actually—and it will probably cost $229,000.
In 2011, the former Locust Grove Elementary School was converted into Locust Grove Primary, with K-2 students remaining in the building. Originally, their 3-5 counterparts would have been located next door in the former Locust Grove Middle School, now abandoned by the move of the students in grades 6-8 to the new school on Flat Run Road.
However, faced with a thin budget, school board members made the highly-criticized decision to close the former Locust Grove Middle School, moving students in grades 6-8 to the upper floor of the new school on Flat Run Road and putting students in grades 3-5 on the lower floor of the same building, creating two schools under one roof.
“Moneywise, we couldn’t keep all three open,” District 3 School Board member Judy Carter said. “It was either keep the elementary and middle schools with 16 trailers and not open the new school or put [students in grades 3-8] in the new school and close the [old] middle school.”
Carter said the latter was not a decision anyone wanted to do, but it represented the best option at the time.
“Now, moving back is what is best for the students,” she said. “They’ve been there long enough.”
White said there has to be a reason to move back, stating that he wouldn’t want to open a school only to have to close it again.
According to student enrollment projections, a boom in third-grade students is expected in the Locust Grove schools, requiring the addition of a seventh teacher. That seventh teacher would then push the number of classrooms for grades 3-5 to 19, one more than what is currently available in the first floor area of the new school used by Locust Grove Elementary.
“If we have to go to 19 teachers, I don’t have room [in our current location],” Locust Grove Elementary School Prinicpal Jesse Magruder said. “I would have to move that class to the other side of the building, segregating [them from the rest of their school].”
The extra classroom would also mean the loss of the middle school’s health room, said Locust Grove Middle School Principal Kim Crandall.
And it’s not just about the numbers and the need for an additional classroom, but also a ratio of older to younger students and the necessary separation between the two, said District 3 Supervisor and board of supervisors chairman Teel Goodwin.
When the decision was originally made to put the younger and older students together under one roof, it caused an outcry from the public. Parents and community members worried about the ramifications of having the two age groups in such close proximity, questioning the appropriateness of the two groups coexisting in the same building. Parents expressed concerns of bullying, safety and the influence of the older children on the the younger students.
“A tremendous amount of work has been done to accommodate expectations that the two groups don’t cohabitat more than necessary,” Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey said.
Currently, the elementary school students occupy the wing of the school originally intended for sixth-grade, placing those students upstairs with the seventh graders, causing some discipline problems with the sharing of a restroom.
“Seventh grade students, particularly males, are often caught bullying younger students,” Crandall said. “With the move downstairs, sixth grade students would have their own restroom. [Their] lockers would also be located in the same hallway where this year they are split into two areas.”
Moving the younger students to their own school would also mean freeing up additional science labs to be used for computer labs for the older students, as well as solving scheduling problems with lunch, resource and enrichment, and facility use.
Magruder echoed many of the same sentiments, especially regarding scheduling. He said with the middle school students departing earlier than the younger students, there have been safety concerns with cars entering the bus loop. He also said assemblies can only be held at 9 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. due to the five lunches run throughout the day and noise can be a problem, carrying from upstairs to downstairs.
“It’s a situation that has worked and I’m proud to be a part of it, but it’s been tough,” Magruder said.
Reopening the Rt. 20 mothballed school is estimated to cost $250,000 in nonrecurring costs for technology and facility upgrades, including cleaning, installing furniture and purchasing computers and other technology. An additional $132,000 in nonrecurring costs are offset by the existing budget, including painting, refinishing the gym floor and rekeying. The nonrecurring costs are already budgeted in the school’s 2013-14 budget.
An additional $229,627 would be needed from supervisorst o cover recurring costs including utilities, custodial supplies, a head custodian and a custodian. The additionl of a cafeteria manager and a part-time cafeteria worker would be covered by the food services fund.
As expected, no definitive decision was made during the meeting as to open the school or not. That’ll come over the next several months as both boards get to work on their budgets. However, Carter said she’s optimistic that the school will be reopened.
“From the comments after the meeting, I think the supervisors also know how important it is to open that school,” Carter said. “It’s not about numbers any more. It’s about what is best for our students.”