By SHANNON WATKINS
On Thursday night the Pulaski County School Board looked at follow up recommendations from the OWPR architecture and engineering firm’s study, presented by Superintendant Dr. Tom Brewster.
“You know, 10 years ago there was a plan put in place titled ‘Building Futures,’” said Brewster. “Of course, the plan included a new consolidated middle school, a new Riverlawn, a renovated Dublin Elementary School, and a new Pulaski Elementary School.
“Since then, a new Riverlawn Elementary School has been built, a new Pulaski Elementary School has been built; however, the renovations to Dublin Elementary and the work to the middle schools has not been completed. So we feel like, you know, in discussing this, that it’s a ‘Buildings Now’ program as a opposed to a ‘Buildings Future’ program.”
According to Brewster’s presentation, several principles were used to create the recommendations; among them were the dialogues from five community meetings, the OWPR architectural study, 366 community surveys and interviews and historical enrollment trends.
Dublin Middle School’s enrollment has remained steady while Pulaski Middle School’s has declined. According to a study on five-year changes in enrollment across Virginia, between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2015, Pulaski County schools are expected to see a decline of 100 or more students throughout the system. The study was done by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Surrounding counties, for the most part, were expected to see an increase in enrollment.
Dublin Elementary was discussed first. Among particular problems noted were the aging mobile unit classrooms outdoors, the unpaved gravel parking lot, the aging bus port, single-paned windows in the building and a three-quarter sized gym.
The renovation of Dublin Elementary, as opposed to building an entirely new facility, was recommended, with several options.
Brewster said specific recommendations were to renovate the administration area, four gang toilets, the gymnasium and the gymnasium offices; and to establish five classrooms and two resource rooms in the existing gymnasium. The cost for this is estimated at $1,400,000.
It is also possible to renovate the existing library to become a media center, or convert it to another two classrooms. If it is converted to classrooms, the existing gymnasium could be turned into a new media center instead, the estimated cost of which is $150,000.
Brewster was later careful to point out that these are preliminary recommendations only.
Other options include building a three-classroom addition at the parking lot side of the existing gym for an estimated $800,000; building a new gym, storage, and PE offices next to the existing gym for $2,800,000; replacing all the HVAC with Single Zone Variable Air Volume (VAV) and Variable Refrigerant Flow (VAF) systems for an estimated $1,400,000; replacing exterior doors and windows for security and energy efficiency for an estimated $420,000, and installing a full-building sprinkler system for an estimated $240,000.
Outside recommendations include creating a new parking lot and parent drop-off zone to improve traffic flow and organization, and to establish storm water management, for an estimated $620,000.
The total estimated cost for renovating Dublin Elementary, said Brewster, would be $9,930,000.
Of highest priority at DES are air conditioning, ventilation and heat, replacing the outdoor mobile unit classrooms and moving all students inside and helping traffic flow smoothly during parent drop off and pick up.
Pulaski Middle School was discussed next, with particular problem areas such as the kitchen and classroom windows, which are outdated, classroom walls which are cracked and unevenly patched, the fact that the school has 13 different levels, outdated pneumatic controllers, an outdated science classroom, cracked, stained and worn interior walls, and cracking and strained exterior brick walls.
“Pneumatic controller—Ronnie, would you care to explain?” asked Brewster.
Director of Operations Ronnie Nichols explained that the pneumatic controller was part of the heating system, used to open valves to regulate heat at the middle school.
Dublin Middle School’s problem areas were also brought up, focusing on the cracked ceilings, cracked exterior brick walls and the exterior wall reinforcement that was just done.
“Those walls have been fixed numerous times,” pointed out school board member Linda Hill.
The recommendation in the case of both middle schools was to build a combined middle school. Further recommendations were to reduce the quantity of classrooms to support 1,152 in lieu of 1,400, but to plan for expanding to accommodate 1,400; replacing STEM labs with traditional science classroom labs and putting in a blackbox theatre with retractable auditorium seating for 500.
The total revised cost for everything would be $51,008,443.
The rationale given for the combined middle school was a combination of several factors: the cost of new construction vs. renovating and the benefits of getting a 50-year solution out of new construction vs. renovation, the fact that the existing Pulaski Middle site, due to land restrictions, cannot achieve parity with a renovated Dublin Middle, concerns that there are too many remote entrances to both schools and the ability to offer students more course content and extracurricular activities at one large facility.
Projected savings included approximately $325,000 over time due to employee attrition, but that might be offset by costs to cool the consolidated building.
Different concerns were raised throughout the presentation.
School Board Vice Chairman Jeff Bain said, citing the Weldon Cooper study, “I think it speaks volumes that we are only one of three counties in Southwest Virginia that show a decline.” (The other two are Grayson and Buchanan.) “We are setting in the midst and adjacent to two of the larger universities that are in the Commonwealth,” he said. “We have a community college here, we have one of the best approach and departure airports, and we have lots of land for development, we have this beautiful lake, and yet we are continuing to decline.”
School board member Joe Guthrie expressed a concern that Dublin Elementary should have enough room built into it for student growth, especially in case of redistricting. “I’m going to be skeptical about not building in enough room in our elementary and middle schools if we’re going to use them for another 30, 40, 50 years,” he said.
“Cutting classrooms makes me nervous,” said Hill. “We want to grow, and we want to work toward helping Pulaski grow.”