Waynesboro School Board held its regular meeting Tuesday in the newly renovated front area of Waynesboro High School.
“I’ll start, as I have every month for the last several, with the Waynesboro High School renovation project updates,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell in beginning his monthly report to the school board.
Cassell and school board members had just toured the Career & Technical Education annex and renovations at the high school before Tuesday’s meeting.
“As you’ve seen, we’re going hot and heavy now,” said VIRTEXCO Corp. Vice President and Project Manager Adam Yates. “This is our summer push.”
Yates provided Cassell and school board members with an upcoming schedule of the renovations.
“Schedules are living, breathing documents,” he said. “We would love to say we hit every date that’s shown on the schedule, but that’s just, I guess, a dream of mine.”
However, part of VIRTEXCO’s job is to make sure renovations are on schedule, and if not, find solutions to get back on track.
School board member Debra Freeman-Belle said she has concerns about enough of the renovations being finished before the first day of school on Aug. 6.
“We will be ready for the school year to start,” Yates answered when questioned by Freeman-Belle before adding work will continue after Aug. 6 and through the academic year.
In particular, the administration areas, which will be located at the front of the high school with the school’s original front entrance in use again, will be ready for staff, Yates said.
Locker rooms, however, will not be ready.
Ricky Truslow, project superintendent with VIRTEXCO, said he lives and breathes Waynesboro High School’s renovations project “every day,” and completion of the locker rooms is running behind, but he is doing everything he can to make sure they are finished by the first week in August. An additional crew of masons was brought in last week.
Truslow said the schedule changes from day to day. For example, contracted workers are working six days a week to complete renovations of the high school’s choral department.
“Anything that I see that I need, I have full support from my vice president to get,” said Truslow. “The issue that we’re really having is getting the qualified people to do it. It’s so much work out there that it’s hard to find people to come in and do the work.”
Yates said VIRTEXCO is doing what it can to find qualified contractors while sticking to the schedule presented to Waynesboro Schools.
Contractors are working 10-to-12 hour days, six days a week on the high school’s renovations, he said. If double shifts are necessary to get certain areas of the renovations done before Aug. 6, then the corporation will find a way to make that happen, he added.
Since summer began, VIRTEXCO contractors are working more than 450 hours per week, “and we’ll continue that and pushing it just as hard as we can,” Truslow said.
Freeman-Belle said the school board’s job “is to make sure [the project is] done and that it’s done adequately to make sure that the instruction and daily activities of our students aren’t interrupted in unplanned ways.”
She said if it takes 800 to 1,000 hours per week for contractors to get the renovations done, then “we ask that you do what you need to do to make the schedule.”
Truslow said he understood.
School Board Chairman Rick Wheeler owns Augusta Cleaners and Formals in Waynesboro, and said the school board expects the extra effort if extra effort is necessary. As a business owner, if his employees cannot get a task completed, then Wheeler steps in to help get the task done.
“Because, I’ve committed myself to that, and I know that’s what you all are doing here, too,” Wheeler said. “But, I also know I have to present some quality work as well.”
A few items need attention with the renovations project, Wheeler said, particularly the fact that administrative staff were supposed to have been able to all ready move into the newly renovated front area of the high school in the spring.
“That needs to be taken care of, because these guys need to get themselves situated and ready to go, and be prepared for when students come back,” Wheeler said.
School board member Diana Williams said the board would like for VIRTEXCO to return to the board’s regular meeting in August for another update.
Cassell said the school system is on schedule for the first day of school when it comes to school supplies, curriculum and staff.
During school board comment at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Freeman-Belle, who was absent at the board’s regular meeting in June, said Waynesboro High School’s commencement ceremony on May 18 was the first she attended as a member of Waynesboro School Board.
“And, to me, I felt like it was an important time for us to stop and reflect on the impact of our schools as we watched each student cross the stage,” said Freeman-Belle, who graduated 18 years ago from Waynesboro High.
She said this year’s graduation made her think about the school system’s teachers and staff, “and, for me, it was very humbling to be a part of it, and it was an experience that I appreciate as a school board member.”
Williams said she attended the Education Equity Summer Institute conference in Richmond on Tuesday, and was planning to attend again on Wednesday.
Williams said she heard a lot of great speakers on Tuesday and participated in webinars.
“Equity has been a big part of the conversation that we’re having about public education in Virginia anyway,” said Williams.
She said, for the most part, school divisions across the Commonwealth are “facing the same challenges.” Positions are being created in Virginia school divisions to address equity concerns.
In her monthly comments, Waynesboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Vermell Grant said interviews have been conducted to fill positions in the school system for the 2019-2020 academic year.
“I’m very excited about the people thus far who will be joining Waynesboro Public Schools next year,” said Grant.
Waynesboro School Board will hold a joint meeting with Waynesboro City Council on Wednesday, July 17, at 5:15 p.m. at an as yet undetermined location. The board’s next regular meeting will be held Tuesday, August 13, at 7 p.m.