Issue of signaled entrance for middle school still up in air

Since plans for a new middle school started coming together last year, planners and supporters of the project have hoped its main entrance would be at a signaled intersection at Thornspring Road and Route 11.

The intersection in front of Cougar Express is seen by many as being the most logical and safest way for motorists to enter the new school’s campus.  It would also serve to slow traffic on Route 11 in an area that has been marred by numerous accidents – some fatal – through the years.

But after months of discussions, study and analysis the signaled entrance option is still in question.

During Monday evening’s meeting of the Pulaski County School Board, Trevor Kimzey – Director of Engineering for Gay and Neel, Inc. – broke the news.

Kimzey said the middle school project has always been viewed as having two plans – a base plan with the entrance to the school being located further up Route 11 at the midpoint of the school project, and a preferred plan with the entrance at the signaled intersection at Cougar Express.

Following what Kimzey called a “lengthy and extremely complicated approval process” by VDOT involving further study and more analysis, the project has reached the point in which planners must “pick a direction and stick with it.”

Kimzey said designers will proceed with the base plan option.

“However,” he said, “by no means have we shut the door on the future access at Thornspring Road.” Kimzey said designers would continue to make sure the project’s site plan would remain “prepped and ready” for the Thornspring entrance should it be approved by VDOT.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers told the board the project is committed now to the base plan.

“There are not enough funds from the bonds to build both entrances,” Siers said. “Should we get the okay to have the signal, it would require somehow generating additional funds to be able to tie into that.”

Kimzey wrote in a letter to the school board in late June about the school access issues and indicated there is a legitimate possibility of Pulaski County qualifying for a VDOT cost sharing program in 2019 that could mitigate these additional costs.

In an update on the middle school project, it was announced that Branch Civil Inc. was the low bidder on the project’s early grading package out of five bidders.

A groundbreaking ceremony is set for July 21 at 9 a.m.

Ben Motley of RRMM Architects, the design firm on the project, suggested to the board that it participate in an upcoming conference of the Virginia School Board Association in Williamsburg.  Motley proposed that the story of Pulaski County’s success in passing a bond referendum to build the new middle school is “a strong story to tell” at the conference.

Also, during the meeting, the board opened its session with a moment of silence in tribute to the late Eddie Sutphin, who board Chairman Tim Hurst called a “tremendous champion of young people” in the county.  Sutphin, who worked in county recreation for over 30 years, passed away recently after a long bout with cancer.

Martin’s Pharmacy in Pulaski was recognized by the board for its continuing support of the Pulaski County School System. Martin’s is the third local business recognized this year by the school board. The other two are Webb Donald State Farm and LewisGale Hospital Pulaski.

The board approved a policy update concerning chronic absenteeism.

Mary Rash, Director of Administration and Instruction, told the school board the school accreditation model from the state has changed.

Rash said chronic absenteeism occurs when a student misses 10 percent of the school year – approximately 18 days.

Previously the school system’s policy stated that if a student failed to report to school for a total of five days, and there was no indication that their parent is aware of and supports the absence, and reasonable efforts to notify the parent of the absences have failed, the school will make direct contact with the parent to discuss the situation and to explain the consequences of continued non-attendance.

Siers said it is extremely important for the school system to stay on top of the issue of absenteeism because of accreditation concerns.

“Both Pulaski Middle School and Pulaski County High School have been in danger of losing accreditation due to chronic absenteeism,” Siers said.

Siers noted improvement needs to be shown this year or the schools could see their accreditation fall to “accreditation with conditions.”
Rash said if that happens, a 10 percent improvement must be made to improve the level of accreditation.