Louisa High

Louisa County High School students leave campus for summer vacation and will return to a brand new high school in August. After the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2011 damaged the high school beyond repair, modular classrooms were soon after put in place to house the high school students.

MINERAL — Dean Hall, 17, is a rising senior at Louisa County High School who’s involved in theater.

He will be in the school’s first graduating class in its new building, which is set to open for the next school year. In it, Hall will have access to the brand new theater space with a state-of-the-art sound system and nearly 800 seats.

It also will be the first time Hall and many of his fellow classmates will attend a high school inside a brick-and-mortar building — and the first time he’ll be able to use a theater space on the same campus he attends high school.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s a cool feeling,” he said. “It’s the first graduating class of the brand new Louisa County High School, so I feel like we’re the beginning of a legacy. I’m ecstatic, I can’t wait.”

After operating out of modular classrooms in the parking lot for the last few years, Louisa County High’s makeshift facilities will clear out this summer.

The 22 modular units, or pods, served as a campus after a magnitude-5.8 earthquake rocked Louisa seven days after the start of the 2011 school year and damaged the 73-year-old school beyond repair. The pods are slated to be disassembled and removed from the campus over a 50-day period beginning Monday.

Potential traffic delays are being anticipated for Route 22 between Louisa and Mineral as the dismantled pieces of the pods are removed by semitrailers. Signs alerting commuters of the upcoming possible delays have already been set up by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

David Szalankiewicz, director of facilities for Louisa County Public Schools, said they won’t know how bad traffic will be until they start hauling the disassembled pods off of the campus. He does not anticipate any additional inconveniences to traffic from the remaining construction of the high school.

Chuck Taylor, owner of Mineral Shakes, located roughly a mile away from the high school, said he does not anticipate bad traffic delays from the pod removal process because of how he remembers when the pods were first brought to the school.

“I feel it’s going to be minimal,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be no different than when they let the school buses out in the afternoon.”

Szalankiewicz will oversee the disassembling and removal of the pods, including removing all furniture, technology, ramps and stairways.

 “As the trailers go out, then we start to come behind the trailers and restore the grass, restore the trees and repair the sidewalks,” Szalankiewicz said. “Everything that got damaged because of these units starts to get restored to back to where it was, so that by the time school starts, there’s parking here for the kids and parents and we can still run school and have business.”

Along with restoring the landscape, the school’s parking lot will be repaved and light poles will be placed, Szalankiewicz said. In the event of poor weather conditions during the removal and restoration process, the division will finish what is necessary for the start of the academic year and save the other improvements for later.

“Probably the biggest task will be the paving because we can always do trees without inconveniencing somebody, the light poles pretty easy without inconveniencing somebody,” Szalankiewicz said. “The biggest inconvenience, if the weather hits us, is going to be the paving because that disturbs a lot of flow and a lot of movement.”

In the summer months, the high school will operate out of the Alternative Education Building along Davis Highway.

Louisa County High, as well as Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, were two of the buildings in the area most affected by the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake. People felt it from Georgia to southeastern Canada and as far west as the Mississippi River. It cracked the Washington Monument and shook and damaged buildings across Central Virginia. The epicenter was located about 3.7 miles underground between Mineral and Louisa near Yanceyville and Shannon Hill roads.

Security videos showed tiles falling from the high school ceiling as walls rocked. Afterward, sunlight shone into some classroom interiors. Door jambs shifted so that doors could neither open nor close. Cracks appeared in interior walls.

No one was seriously injured in the temblor.

The new Louisa County High will be about 270,000 square feet, and features a classroom wing, a second-floor library, space for career and technical programs and a gym with a capacity for about 1,800 people.

Local, state and federal funding covered the facility’s $54.8 price tag. Overall, the earthquake caused about $90 million in damage for the school division.

The rebuilt Thomas Jefferson Elementary opened last year.

Louisa County High Principal Lee Downey, who was the assistant principal at the time of the earthquake, came back to the high school this past school year after working as Louisa County Middle School’s principal.

“It was just a great opportunity to come in and try to build family with the students and staff and work toward student achievement and building a good school climate,” he said.

The high school will open to the public Aug. 9 with a community open house and ribbon cutting. An open house for students and parents will take place the next day, and the first day of school is Aug. 12.

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Michael Bragg is the public safety reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, mbragg@dailyprogress.com or @BraggMichaelC on Twitter.

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