Supervisors, School Board told middle school project ‘right on schedule’

Work on the county’s new middle school is moving ahead right on schedule with grading work targeted to begin this summer.

Pulaski County’s Board of Supervisors and School Board heard an update on the middle school project Monday evening during a four-hour joint meeting that saw a number of topics covered.

Representatives of RRMM Architects, Gay and Neel and Skansa updated the boards on the school work.

The two boards learned several things about the project, including the news that it should be known within 30 to 60 days whether a desired traffic signal will be allowed at the Thornspring Road – Route 11 intersection at Cougar Express. The signal is key in allowing that intersection to serve as the primary entrance to Pulaski County Middle School.

As design work has progressed, it was noted the size of the middle school property has fluctuated from as much as 58 acres to a “shade under 53 acres” currently.

The original school plans called for grading to allow for the construction in the future of six tennis courts.  The ground would be graded and made “pad ready,” but no construction would take place for now. Designers, however, recommended eliminating three of the courts due to terrain issues.

Ben Motley of RRMM Architects said his firm had completed the design development phase of the project and was, with the school board’s approval, ready to move into the construction document phase.

The school board approved moving on to the construction document phase, the change in tennis court plans and an early grading package in which grading for the entire school site will be done as opposed to only the building site.

The boards heard a report on school enrollment and attendance from School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers.

Siers said enrollment as of March 31 stood at 4,003 students – a drop of 105 from last school year.

Declines in enrollment, Siers said, were recorded at Pulaski County High School, both Pulaski and Dublin middle schools, Riverlawn and Snowville elementary schools.  Gains had been seen at both Pulaski and Dublin elementary schools, and Critzer Elementary is holding steady this year compared to last year.

Siers attributed a portion of the decline to a rise in home schooling.  He said 20 additional students are now being home schooled, raising the total in the county to 186 students.  He said that matches a statewide trend seen as more state approved online programs become available.

Siers added there is a total of 341 students not included in the school system’s average daily membership, which puts the county’s school-aged population at 4,344.

Out of district placements, Siers reported, have declined from 29 students last year to 22 this school year.

Siers reported what he calls a “pretty significant” increase in attendance this year at county schools.

Average attendance is up by nearly a half of a percent.

“With 4,000 students and 180 school days, half a percent is a pretty significant increase,” Siers said. “Typically, your goal for a year is one tenth of a percent increase,” he said.

The future of the former Claremont School property was discussed.  Siers said the school system no longer has a need for the old elementary school and would be seeking permission to either sell the property or convey it back to the board of supervisors.

Siers suggested selling the school and surrounding property, and using the money raised for capital improvement needs within the school system.

While no decision was made Monday night, it appeared members of both boards and County Administrator Jonathan Sweet were onboard with the idea of liquidating the property and putting the money back into the school system for capital needs.

School safety was also on the meeting agenda.

Siers said the Virginia State Police has completed a security assessment at PCHS and the school board was due to hear the results of that study during a closed session at its regular monthly meeting this past Tuesday.

The State Police will be conducting similar studies at each county school by the time school starts next fall, Siers said.

The assessments are part of an effort by the school system to make sure security and plans are up to speed in the school system, and that all schools are on the same page on how to prevent and address any potential threats to local schools.

Siers said discussions have been held with local law enforcement agencies and that next year evacuation drills will be conducted at each school to make sure designated areas are sufficient for parents to pick up their children should an incident occur that requires an evacuation of students.

Siers said the school system’s capital needs plan would likely need to be revised based on the security assessment done by the State Police.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Stafford also reviewed for the supervisors the school board’s budget proposal for 2018-19.