"It's our turn"
The replacement for Clover Hill High School is back on schedule after the Chesterfield School Board voted unanimously last week to approve its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
The new school was temporarily delayed last month when school board members failed to reach a vote on the CIP amid questions about the feasibility of building a new Clover Hill when overcrowded classrooms are more of a problem in the eastern portion of the county.
"Clover Hill High School is a substandard facility. That is a fact. It's not right to deny or postpone this facility. It's our turn," said Dianne Pettitt, before calling for the motion to approve the CIP. Pettitt represents the Clover Hill District. The replacement school will be located on Genito Road at Route 288.
The replacement was included in the bond referendum that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004. During the meeting last week, some questioned if it was legal or ethical for the school board to change its mind on building a new Clover Hill when the replacement had been approved by voters.
"The Clover Hill replacement was part of a complete package," maintained Buddy Whitfield, president of the Brandermill Community Association. He then urged the school board to approve the CIP "to ensure the trust of voters."
Pettitt agreed. "This is an issue of the integrity of our bond [referendum] process," she said. "To selectively delete some projects would corrupt the integrity of the process."
About 20 county residents spoke to the school board during a public comment period. Most were Brandermill residents or parents, teachers and students from Clover Hill.
Many complained about the condition of the current school. "I've sat in classes for four hours waiting for the lights to turn on," said Jordan Wilson, a Clover Hill student.
"My daughter has to wear a hat and gloves and coat to her classes," said Laurie Newill, a Clover Hill parent.
Very few speakers were opposed to the Clover Hill replacement. County critics Brenda Stewart and Shelly Schuetz both spoke during the public comment period but avoided the issue of the Clover Hill replacement even though they spoke in opposition to the project during a school board meeting last month. In December, they argued that a replacement isn't needed because the new Cosby High School has relieved overcrowding in that part of the county. A new school should be built to ease crowded classrooms at Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook high schools, they said.
According to the school system's latest enrollment numbers, Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook are both 25 percent over capacity. Those figures are expected to increase as more people move to the county.
After the opening of Cosby, Clover Hill is now only one percent over capacity.
But, School Board Chairman Marshall Trammell and others said the replacement was never planned due to overcrowding. It's needed because of the current condition of Clover Hill.
Prior to the public comment period, Roger Richardson, principal with BCWH Architects, reviewed a feasibility study from 2002 that looked at renovating the current Clover Hill. The study concluded there wasn't enough space on the current site for an expansion and neighboring land was either too expensive or not available. Other factors included aging mechanical and electrical systems that need to be replaced, the lack of natural light and safety since Clover Hill is located along one of the busiest sections of Hull Street Road. The study found that it would cost nearly as much to renovate the current school as build a new one.
Board members also received an update on projected construction costs for a replacement school. Due to radical increases in material and labor costs, "this replacement is going to cost 50-52 percent more than the 2004 figure for Cosby," predicted Doug Westmoreland, vice president of Moseley Architects. Cosby, which opened last September, cost $59.8 million. Some have projected the Clover Hill replacement could cost $92 million - even though it will essentially be the same school as Cosby.
"These are projections," said Westmoreland. "We could put it out on the street, and it could come in less."
"I think all of us were in complete shock when we started getting the figures," replied Trammell.
Ultimately, board members voted unanimously to pass the CIP with the Clover Hill replacement intact. The CIP will now be sent to County Administrator Lane Ramsey for review.