Voters in Pulaski County will have the final say whether a new, consolidated middle school will be constructed in the county.
The decision to ask the Circuit Court to place the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in November was made Monday night on a 5-0 vote by the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
Assuming the court orders the referendum, the November General Election ballot will include the following question:
“Should Pulaski County, Virginia, issue its general obligation bonds in the maximum amount of $47 million to finance the acquisition, construction and equipping of a consolidated Pulaski County Middle School and related improvements?”
The decision to let voters decide the middle school issue came after comments by citizens, supervisors – and a special called meeting earlier Monday by the Pulaski County School Board.
School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers reported that during their meeting, school board members reviewed the project with architect Ben Motley of RRMM Architects.
During the meeting, the school board agreed to change the amount requested to build the school from the original $45.7 million to $47 million.
The supervisors had requested the school board consider changing the amount included in their earlier resolution, which asked supervisors to either approve funding for the school directly, or ask the court to order that the issue be placed on the November ballot.
The supervisors’ request came over concerns the $45.7 million would not cover additional costs for road construction, a possible change in the sewer service in the area of the proposed school from pump station to gravity feed, and costs associated with the issuance of the bonds, which Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready said could reach $500,000 to $600,000.
McCready thanked school board members for making the change.
The motion to let voters decide the issue was made by Robinson Supervisor Charles Bopp with a second by Draper Supervisor Dean Pratt.
Prior to their vote, three of the supervisors made comments about the middle school issue.
Cloyd Supervisor Joe Guthrie told the packed board meeting room that the middle school will not be cheaper to build anytime in the future than it would be right now, and the best thing to do to save taxpayers’ money would be to start building it as soon as possible.
Guthrie continued that, to this point, those who support building the new middle school have had to convince the five supervisors.
“In a few minutes, it will be your job to convince 35,000 people of the need for the school,” Guthrie said.
“It’s going to happen because people are going to understand the benefits of the school, and how it’s going to be the best thing for the county,” Guthrie added. “It will come down to folks who want this to happen to help to make it happen. If this is something you want, it will be up to you to make sure it passes.”
McCready told the audience Pulaski County’s schools are very similar to school systems throughout Southwest Virginia. “They’re losing enrollment,” he said.
McCready noted that Pulaski County had educated a high of about 6,000 students at one time. In 2006 that number had dropped to 5,000, and in the coming year the figure will be just over 4,000.
“The decline in enrollment is something we need to take seriously,” McCready said.
McCready continued that Pulaski Middle School is “not even remotely a candidate for renovation.”
“There are simply too many things, on too many levels, too much going on,” he said. “I’m sorry for the folks in the Town of Pulaski who may feel otherwise.”
McCready noted there has been some interest in the Pulaski Middle School property once it’s no longer used as a school, but no such interest has so far been displayed in Dublin Middle School.
McCready said much had been said during the middle school discussions about the dangers of asbestos in the two middle schools, and the cost of removing it.
“After the tornado in Draper, engineers estimated to the supervisors that it would cost $200,000 to get all the asbestos out of the school. That market has changed considerably, and we got all of it removed for a little over $20,000,” McCready said. “Asbestos can be bad, but the cost to remove it has changed drastically.”
He continued that one of the county’s schools that concerns him is Pulaski County High School.
“All four of the academic pods at PCHS have asbestos in the ceilings,” McCready said.
“We need to do a renovation at our high school,” he said, adding, “we need to be serious about renovations on our schools – an up-fit as I call it – every 20 to 25 years.”
“Every school needs to have some major work done to it every 20 to 25 years. It is absolutely essential we do that,” he continued.
“We have needs in all our schools, and we need to be thinking about addressing all those needs,” McCready said.
Pratt said, in the end, he believes voters will approve the bond referendum in November.
He recalled that, five years ago, he had said he thought “the board of supervisors had balanced its budget on the lack of maintenance for things we do in the county, and that we needed to start working on that.”
Pratt said, this year, “we have a plan for maintenance on other facilities.”
“We can’t afford to let buildings run down and have to replace them,” Pratt said. He promised the board, working with the school board, will work together to fund a maintenance program for schools.
“So, if we get this new school, we can keep it nice, because we can’t afford to build new schools all the time,” he said.
By MIKE WILLIAMS