After public comment, supervisors approve financing for 4th middle school

Before the Board of Supervisors considered issuing bonds for a fourth middle school at the James Blair site, public speakers lined up to address the project Tuesday evening.

Supervisors approved a resolution issuing $25 million in bonds for the project, which would create a new middle school off Ironbound Road. Supervisors John J. McGlennon, Michael Hipple and Ruth Larson voted for the financing, which was opposed by Supervisors Kevin Onizuk and Sue Sadler.

"Construction costs now are generally pretty good. I think it only makes sense for us to go ahead," said McGlennon. He said he felt there had been an exhaustive conversation about the middle school and that the school division proposal was justified.

But Sadler said she felt the vote was best postponed until after another joint meeting with the School Board planned for the end of the month.

"By voting on this tonight based on what a lot of citizens have told me its’s kind of steam rolling the whole thing and plowing right ahead," Sadler said.

"There's different things out there that we need to consider, before we start singing 'Wrecking Ball along with Miley Cyrus," referring to the pending demolition at the school.

"We need to make sure everyone and all their thoughts and ideas are considered."

Larson, who previously sat on the School Board before joining the Board of Supervisors this year, said she felt the school division had been constantly challenged by the county allowing growth. "I think all of us up here take spending money extremely seriously, I would hope that no one in their comments is suggesting something else," she said.

"I hear you, Ms. Sadler, perhaps everybody does not feel like they’ve been heard, but I know this has been discussed for probably the last 6 or 7 years."

The middle school project has been a frequent topic of discussion at Board of Supervisors meetings since the beginning of the year.

A small but vocal group of citizens have been speaking out against the proposal both at meetings and in emails sent to board members questioning the need for the project and whether the location is appropriate.

“The James Blair Middle School project has not been properly vetted at all,” said Barbara Henry, who spoke during the public comment period. “I don’t care if it was 8 or 80 years in the making, it was a bad idea.”’

Bambi Walters, a parent of two students at Lafayette High School, said while she wasn’t necessarily opposed to the middle school site at James Blair, she hoped the county would do something about access to the gym, which is utilized by Lafayette students.

“We understand that there is a tremendous push to move forward with the fourth middle school, we want to work in collaboration with the Board of Supervisors, the School Board and the city of Williamsburg. If they’re going to move forward with the bond and approving it, they need to amend the bond to approve the auxiliary gym at Lafayette,” Walters said to the Gazette, after addressing supervisors with her concerns.

“That we are placing a school in such a poor location, no I just don’t get it,” said Joe Swanenburg, a frequent speaker at Board of Supervisors meetings. “We could discuss for endless hours whether we need a new middle school.

“People from all walks of life across the entire political spectrum have argued against this school. This is not the school we need,” he said.

Michael Loy, PTA President at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School, said he felt school officials had manipulated the county into approving the fourth middle school project but said he felt now was the time for the Board of Supervisors to provide the School Board with oversight.

“This is your time to ask the School Board what are their monetary priorities,” Loy said.

Supervisors Kevin Onizuk and Sue Sadler had raised questions about the need for the school, after reviewing enrollment projections for the school division. Onizuk previously voted in favor of the project, before changing his mind about the need for it after reviewing data and hearing from citizens.

The Board of Supervisors hosted a joint meeting with school division officials in late March to allow for questions and answers on why the division felt the project was necessary. Afterward, Hipple, who missed the March meeting due to illness, indicated the conversation was closed.

Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346.

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