School Board members tour proposed elementary school sites

By: Adrienne Wallace | Email: Click Here
Posted: January 24, 2020 | 12:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – New school board members received an update on the process for building a new school on Saturday as they toured facilities and proposed locations.

Jill Andrews said the meeting and tour went well with new members being able to present concerns and receiving information about the plan to move forward. While in closed session, they discussed their proposed site but releasing that will have to wait, the District 2 representative explained, until after the School Board and Board of Supervisors chairs can meet on the matter.

“We talked about which site we think is better and agree Walton Elementary needs to be replaced first,” Andrews noted.

On Saturday, they visited all proposed sites including the Yancey tract, A Avenue with land donated by Fort Lee, the property where Walton now sits, the Courthouse area behind Beazley and Middle Road. 

Though it was somewhat of a refresher for the new member, Andrews felt up to date having toured Walton before and attended board meetings for several months before the election.

During that time she talked with local residents about their concerns and received a great deal of feedback about the needs of a new school. They did not go into Walton since they had looked at the facility before but did look at North Saturday which could serve as a base-design concept for a new elementary school.

However, Andrews said that a lot has changed since the newest elementary school was built and that would have to be incorporated in the design of a new school.

What is completely off the list is a campus-style design with school officials realizing they create safety concerns because students and staff must leave classrooms to go to another and other parts of the building. She liked the courtyard at North, which was built in 2009 as a new two-story facility serving Pre Kindergarten through Grade 5. 

“The courtyard is in the center of the building and all the light shines in from the windows, and I really like that idea,” she said in a phone interview following the tour. Also, she said the two stories provide more space at a lesser cost than one story that would meet the same needs for the suggested 850 students.

That number increased from an initial proposed 720 students during the long debate over the cost and location of a new site. Along with it, so did the price from $27 million to at least $32 million and up to $35 million. 

The process didn’t begin sooner because the School Board and Board of Supervisors couldn’t come to an agreement on a site. Supervisors said from the beginning they would not approve a site that was not already owned by the county.

Though Prince George owns the Yancey tract, there is no infrastructure leading to the land, and supervisors say it would cost millions to bring it to the location.

Still, that remained at the top of the list, but then School Board members including current chair Chris Johnson, Vice Chairman Robert Eley, and former members Robert Cox, Lewis Stevenson, and Kevin Foster, proposed building at the Walton site that would require land to be purchased.

Middle Road, which has infrastructure capability and was donated to the county was the proposed site of the Board of Supervisors, but the school board said no.

“I would like to see the new school within two years, but that depends if the boards agree on a location,” Andrews added. “The architects are already working on stuff at different sites.”

“The county has ultimate approval of the site,” she noted. “They have the money, and they have to say yes.”

Andrews said one of the goals is to better the relationship between the two boards. “Things happened in the past, and not anyone is to blame, but we’re hoping to start off on a good note.”

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