Turning the “first sod” for the new Pioneer Elementary School Monday are Councilman Roger Fawcett, Eric Stichler of construction firm Blueridge General, Jeff Harris and Duane Harver of RRMM Architects, School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck, Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, School Board member Enoch Copeland, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney, Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson, Councilman Charles Brown, School Board member Lorraine Skeeter, School Board member Phyllis Byrum, Councilman Curtis Milteer, School Board member Linda Bouchard, School Board Chairman Michael Debranski, and Councilman Charles Parr.
Turning the “first sod” for the new Pioneer Elementary School Monday are Councilman Roger Fawcett, Eric Stichler of construction firm Blueridge General, Jeff Harris and Duane Harver of RRMM Architects, School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck, Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, School Board member Enoch Copeland, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney, Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson, Councilman Charles Brown, School Board member Lorraine Skeeter, School Board member Phyllis Byrum, Councilman Curtis Milteer, School Board member Linda Bouchard, School Board Chairman Michael Debranski, and Councilman Charles Parr.

Archived Story

School Pioneers break ground

Published 8:45pm Monday, July 8, 2013

School district and city officials braved rainy conditions Monday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the future Pioneer Elementary School.

Sixteen individuals, also including representatives of the architectural and construction firms, formed a shovel-wielding line in front of an iron-and-cinder-block skeleton.

After umbrellas were unfolded during the official remarks, sod-turners took advantage of a break in the rain to get the job done.

“While it’s quite obvious that we are a lot further than just breaking ground,” the overdue project was cause for celebration, said Deran Whitney, school district superintendent.

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson agreed the project “has been a long time coming.”

“The name of the school, to me, is progress,” she said. “It’s out in the southwest part of our city that has waited a long, long time to see progress.

“We are growing, and our education system is going to have to grow — and continue to grow — in so many ways.”

Enoch Copeland spoke for the School Board. Copeland, the vice chair of the board, has been an energetic proponent of the project.

“You don’t know how happy I am,” he said, before thanking the city Planning Commission, School Board, school district superintendent and staff, as well as citizens.

“Most of all, we are looking forward to our students who will make Pioneer Elementary School one of the best schools in the United States of America.”

Pioneer Elementary will have a strong and active parent base, Copeland said. “We are going to have everybody online,” he added.

“When you go down (Route) 58, you are going to be able to see a great school which Suffolk has built. This is a great day in the city of Suffolk.”

Juxtaposing Monday’s slick ceremony, for which even the weather cooperated, the story of the future elementary school on the corner of Route 58 and Pioneer Road is not without drama.

Replacing Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools to serve the southwestern part of Suffolk, the site was purchased last July following years of indecision and delays.

How many schools to build was the main contention early on, and when the recession ultimately decided the one-school model, the School Board and City Council then couldn’t agree on a site.

Two construction contract change orders apparently have not delayed the project, which officials maintain is on track to open for the 2014-2015 school year.

Modeled on Hillpoint Elementary, though smaller, the school is designed to serve 650 students from pre-kindergarten through grade 5, with over 83,300 square feet spread over two floors and all set on 47 acres.

Features include brick exterior with “metal panel accents and larger expanses of glass,” 26 general classrooms with separate wings for each grade, six special education classrooms and “learning nooks.”

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