School board approves schematic design of new middle school; hears VDOT unlikely to approve second entrance and traffic signal

Pulaski County will likely have to do some political arm twisting if its new middle school is to get a second – and the preferred – signaled entrance on Route 11 that designers and supporters want.

The Pulaski County School Board on Tuesday held a meeting at the high school’s Little Theater to hear RRMM Architects representatives provide an update on the $47 million middle school project.

The meeting represented what RRMM’s Ben Motley called an “important milestone” for the project.

Following the presentation, the school board voted unanimously to approve the schematic design of the school and grounds. The vote was important to RRMM’s design team as it allows them to continue moving forward on the project.

RRMM representatives told the board that design work on the project is right on schedule, and no major changes to the design have been made.

During their presentation, it was noted that designers did shift the position of the school’s track and multi-purpose stadium slightly to accommodate a possible future realignment of Hatcher Road, an idea which has gained favor with local officials in recent months.

RRMM is also now recommending the project include a gravity fed sewer line, rather than the original idea of pumping sewage up to an existing sewer line near PCHS. The gravity fed line would connect to a sewer line previously installed for Pulaski Elementary School.

RRMM will continue to hold meetings with staff, middle school department representatives and administrative officials to iron out more design plans. And talks will be held on bid alternatives should bidding for the school project come in too high.

The only bump in the road Tuesday was news from RRMM that the Virginia Department of Transportation is not likely to approve a traffic signal at the Thornspring Road – Route 11 intersection where a second entrance to the school had been hoped for.

RRMM said VDOT’s first attempt at a traffic study in the area of the proposed middle school was interrupted by weather and subsequent school closings, forcing the need for a second attempt at analyzing traffic in the area.

Results of the second study aren’t due until mid-March, however, RRMM representatives Tuesday night painted a gloomy picture on the likelihood VDOT will approve the signaled intersection.

While RRMM still plans to pursue VDOT’s approval, the best it expects to get from the state agency is flashing school zone lights on the approach to the school and turn lanes into and out of the site.

It was noted during discussion of the traffic signal that while new guidelines followed by VDOT on such things as traffic signals have changed and make approval in this case doubtful, VDOT has been known to respond to political pressure.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready, Cloyd District Supervisor Joseph Guthrie and County Administrator Jonathan Sweet urged the school board and board of supervisors to combine efforts to approve resolutions asking VDOT to bend its guidelines to allow for the signal.

Sweet said resolutions by both boards could be taken to officials in Richmond and to the county’s state legislators in an effort to win approval.

Motley suggested any such resolution address funding for Hatcher Road’s realignment outside the $47 million allotted for the school’s construction.  Sweet agreed, noting there are other potential sources of funding available for moving Hatcher, including revenue sharing with VDOT and others.

Asked if county officials saw any issues with the school plans to this point, McCready said a new program has begun that could provide funding for a realignment of Hatcher Road, and that he did not feel the school board needed to be concerned about the issue at this time.

“That’s more of a county issue,” McCready said, noting the opening of the school is still two years away. “Hatcher can be re-directed in less than two years.”

McCready acknowledged that news of there possibly not being  a traffic signal at the Thornspring Road – Route 11 intersection will cause concern for parents and travelers through the area, the general design of the project appears “locked in.”