Pulaski County Middle School officially opened

“Welcome to Pulaski County Middle School!”

Dr. Kevin Siers

By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

Pulaski County Middle School was officially opened Wednesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours – even though students have been attending class there since early September.

Officially welcoming a large crowd to the school, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers spoke about the effort to make the school a reality and introduced several who have played a major role in its creation.

Introducing current and former members of the board of supervisors, Siers said, “It’s no secret turning Pulaski County Middle School into a reality was a difficult and sometimes contentious undertaking. However, to quote the late Rev. Billy Graham, ‘Comfort and prosperity has never enriched the world as much as adversity has.’ As you can see here, adversity turned out the most beautiful middle school in the state of Virginia.”

School superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers welcomes attendees to Wednesday’s official opening of Pulaski County Middle School. (Mike Williams/The Patriot)

Siers introduced those responsible for the completion of the school’s construction, including the design firm, RRMM; construction company Branch Builds and construction management firm Skanska.

He reserved special recognition for the school system’s Director of Operations, Jess Shull.

“There is absolutely no way Pulaski County Middle School would be open today, or would it be as nice as it turned out, without the determination, vision and hard work of our director of operations, Jess Shull,” Siers said. “Jess brought several years of experience in middle school construction to Pulaski County and we are very fortunate to have had his expertise, experience and leadership throughout this process.”

Siers recognized two special guests for the ceremony.

“Pulaski County Middle School is not a recent development. Conversations began as soon as Pulaski County High School was completed when Ken Dobson was superintendent. Representing the beginning of this conversation today is Mrs. Sue Dobson and former Assistant Superintendent Eddie Cruise.”

Siers also recognized a group of citizens who led the way in getting a bond referendum passed in the county that paved the way for the school’s construction.

Siers recognized “The hard work and effort put in by the parents, grandparents, educators and community members who made up the Pulaski County Citizens for Education. There were many players in bringing PCMS to fruition, but everyone knows that without this group we’d probably just be celebrating the fact that we made it through another year without a wall or a roof caving in at our old buildings, instead of opening a brand new ‘nothing like it in Virginia phenomenal new middle school.’ These folks worked tirelessly to advertise, advocate, and coordinate numerous community events about why a new middle school was needed, and answer questions on how it would impact our community. All their efforts were rewarded when on Nov. 7, 2017 citizens of Pulaski County voted with a two-thirds majority to fund the construction of PCMS.”

Portraits of Joe Reed (left) for whom the school’s library is named, and Cpl. Lewis Kenneth Bausell, for whom the school entrance road – Medal of Honor Way – is named. (Mike Williams/The Patriot)

Siers said the completion of Pulaski County Middle School is a highpoint of his career.

“Being involved in this has definitely been one of the highlights of my career and I am thankful for everyone who helped assist and guide the process along the way.”

“It is highly probable that Pulaski County Middle School will be in use long after most of us here today are gone – either to our Heavenly reward or a retirement home in Tampa,” he said.

“It bears noting that we attempted to create a school that is solid in every way, but flexible enough to change with the times as public education evolves. I sincerely hope that you agree that we were successful in our mission as PCMS is a facility unlike any other in our region,” Siers concluded.

School board chairman Tim Hurst said, “If I could sing, I would sing. If I could dance, I would dance.”

Hurst told the large crowd assembled outside the school, “It is fitting that Mrs. Dobson and Eddie Cruise are with us today as this was the longtime vision of Mr. Dobson. The conversation about a consolidated new middle school began about 40 years ago in the late 70’s and early 80’s.”

“That was a very difficult economic period of high interest rates and high inflation. So, the conversation about a new middle school and Mr. Dobson’s dream got put on hold, and it got backed up even more when Mr. Dobson retired.

“About seven or eight years ago the conversation started back up again, however, with former school board members – Jeff Bain, Joe Guthrie, Linda Hill and Mike Barbour – and our previous superintendent, Tom Brewster,” Hurst said.

Hurst noted that, according to the state Department of Education, the average life of a school building is about 50 years.

“If you get 50 years out of a school, you’re very fortunate. Pulaski Middle School served this county – or old Pulaski High School for you Orioles out there – for nearly 100 years. Dublin Middle School – or for those of us who were Dukes at Dublin High School – served our county for 70 years. So, we got about 170 years of use out of those two schools. I think we did okay,” said Hurst.

Hurst spoke of all the meetings that were held in developing the new middle school.

“Meetings, after meetings after meetings. And as Dr. Siers mentioned earlier, some of them became rather contentious at times. He was being very kind,” Hurst said. “However, that comes along with the territory. That’s part of it. Part of public service. At each meeting some would speak in favor of the new middle school, some would speak against the new middle school. And all had legitimate concerns.”

Hurst said there was one comment he heard back then that bothered him more than any other.

“The one comment that bothered me the most was, ‘It was good enough for me,’ speaking of our old schools,” Hurst said.

“I’m so thankful that when Volvo decided to expand their facilities in Pulaski County and create new jobs for our residents, that they didn’t say ‘what we had is good enough.’ Or that people like David Hagan didn’t say when he invested so much into Pulaski County that Montgomery County was good enough. And when I drive around our county and see banners hanging off telephone poles that say ‘Pulaski County Is outdoor adventures or Pulaski County Is advanced manufacturing or Pulaski County Is live music’ – all great things that define Pulaski County – I’m so thankful for those. But I’m even more thankful that not one of those banners says that ‘Pulaski County is good enough.’

“I hope for our county and schools that our standards and goals will never be good enough. That we will always strive to be better,” Hurst said.

He recalled that ground was broken for PCMS on July 21, 2018, then the rains came.

“Where you’re standing or sitting today was a big mud hole,” Hurst said.

Then the arrival in the spring of this year of COVID-19 provided another construction delay.

“But through all the things we went through and the adversity we went through, here we are today. And we’re on budget,” Hurst exclaimed.

The last reported cost for the school was $46,888,376.

So, what does PCMS mean to Pulaski County?

“Most importantly it is a more positive and productive learning environment for our students,” said Hurst. “Gone are the days of 85-degree classrooms with very little breeze blowing and teachers trying to teach over the sound of two or three fans in the classroom. Kids are attending today one of the safest, most secure schools in all of the state of Virginia here at PCMS.”

“Increased offerings are what it means for our students,” Hurst continued. “Like robotics, drama – programs that are complimented by programs at the high school like cyber security and drama that are second to nobody in the state of Virginia. What a wonderful message this sends to not only families of Pulaski County, but to any young family looking to move to the New River Valley. It tells those families that quality schools and education is valued in Pulaski County.”

“What does it mean,” Hurst asked. “Ask a teacher who has taught in the old middle schools for the last 20 years in some of the most difficult conditions that you can imagine.”

“Ask Ethelene Sadler and our food service folks who have been working in some extremely difficult conditions in our old schools,” he continued.

“A new middle school means Pulaski County is doing its very best to provide for our number one resource – our children. So, whether you voted for this school or not, it’s something as a community we can all be very proud of,” Hurst said.

School board vice chairman Beckie Cox recounted the story of Marine Corporal Lewis Kenneth Bausell, for whom the school entrance road – Medal of Honor Way – is named.

Bausell was born in Pulaski County and is the county’s only Medal of Honor recipient. He was killed in the battle of Peleliu in the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Cox spoke of Bausell’s sacrifice and love for his fellow Marines as inspiration for those locally who Cox said “put it all on the line” to fight for the creation of Pulaski County Middle School – an investment she said that had been “done in love.”

“May all the students who attend school here know the love that went into providing this school to you,” Cox said.

A portrait of Bausell, provided by the local Daughters of American Revolution chapter was on display at the event.

Another portrait on display was that of Joe Reed, a longtime former educator for Pulaski County Schools, for whom the school’s library is named.

PCMS Principal Rebecah Smith talked of Reed, who died several months ago. She noted the sign on his office door read, “Head Learner,” because, she said, he believed everyone could learn more and no one knew everything.

Closing the event was a four-stage ribbon cutting, with student, parent, faculty, and staff representatives cutting alternating cardinal and gold ribbons, followed by the school board members, along with former member Mike Barbour cutting the final ribbon.

After the event, all in attendance were allowed to tour the new school.