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NK residents concerned about School Board, Supervisors' lack of communication over historic high school project

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

8:36 PM EDT, March 11, 2014

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NEW KENT – New Kent County residents are asking the School Board and Board of Supervisors to play nice over the historic high school project.

“The School Board and Board of Supervisors need to work together with a plan,” said resident Kathy Gray. “This isn’t working, especially since there are emotions involved.”

“Someway you have to figure it out and when you do, we will be there to support you.”

Gray, along with six other parents and county residents, spoke at the School Board informational session last month to discuss the scope and timeline of the project with the public.

The next phase of the historic high school project includes the renovation of the 20,000 square-foot 1930 school building on New Kent Highway for use as an elementary school in fall 2015.

The Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 19 to approve Marengo Management's unsolicited Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA) proposal, and to move into a more detailed phase.

The PPEA process is foreign to the School Board, Superintendent Dr. Robert “Rick” Richardson, Jr. explained.

“With the PPEA, you don’t get the process of sitting down and designing collaboratively and bringing the teachers in,” Richardson said,

“What we were told is, ‘For this amount of money this is what we will deliver at the end of the project’.”

“Where is our input as educators who have worked on design building facilities? And where do the parents give their input as to what the building will look like once the project is finished?” Richardson asked. “That community vision, that shared planning doesn’t occur.”

At the meeting, School Board member Dr. Gail Hardinge also openly voiced her frustration with County Administrator Rodney Hathaway’s comment that the project’s basic plans and price had to change because the School Board asked supervisors to make the historic school K-5, rather than an upper level elementary school.

“You are saying that any increase in money will be our fault because we want a K-5, but it would have been the same if it was a 3-5 or anything else,” Hardinge said. “Don’t blame the School Board.”

“You will not work with us. We’ve never even met with the builder.”

When residents voiced their concern about the boards’ inability to work together, Hardinge admitted that the meeting was held, in part, to reveal the cracks in communication.

“We know there are problems. But here’s the point, if the School Board has been deemed in a position where the PPEA process is a done deal, where we are not in the driver’s seat regarding decisions, where it’s not a process we are familiar with and we are not given the details, and we’ve talked with our Board of Supervisors representatives, what’s our next choice? Who do we go tell? We tell you,” she said.

“So, yes, there is chaos tonight, and we wanted you to know. I think it’s important to know that we want to work on the problem, but we want you to monitor us and we want you to monitor the process because it is your children that will be going to these schools.”

Aside from the communication breakdown, residents also brought up the condition of the historic building (originally built in the 1930s, which could be dangerous for students) and the unpredictable cost increases.

“My son has a severe mold allergy and there’s mold under that building. It’s been leaking since it was closed as a middle school eight years ago. It was closed for a reason,” said Judy Adkins. “To say that it’s good enough to put kids in now is negligent. I feel like this board has let us down by not budgeting money for a new elementary school.”

“It’s been 40 years since New Kent County has budgeted money for an elementary school,” she added. “We’re failing our elementary school community and parents.”

According to Taylor Moore, of Marengo Management, the company has removed all of the hazardous materials from the 1950s wing in phase I (currently underway) and will do the same in the 1930s historic building. Air quality tests and other health inspections will have to meet state regulations, he said.

Moore said that Marengo has projected the asbestos removal to cost $15,000, an amount that  will most likely go up as they start working in the building. Also, this phase of the project, proposed at around $7.2 million, does not currently include furnishing, landscaping, and playgrounds.

Following the informational meeting, School Board Chair Leigh Quick admitted that although it did not go as planned, she was optimistic in the final result.

“Maybe we are being put onto a better path,” she said. “I think we all have the skills and desire to do what’s best and the end product is going to be a good one.”

Residents concerned about the historic high school project should contact their local school board member. A list of the members can be found on: www.newkentschools.org.

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.