Spending plan supports new Holland school

Published 9:58 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

Members of the Holland community turned out in force at the City Council meeting on Wednesday to appeal for a new school in Holland and lights for the community’s ball fields.

Of the 12 speakers who came to express their opinions on the capital improvements plan, nine were there to ask for the lights, the school, or both.

In the end, the City Council voted 7-1 to approve the $682.6 million plan, which covers fiscal years 2010-2019. Only the first year of the plan makes it into the current budget year process. The plan includes $22 million in the first year for a Southwestern Elementary School replacement.

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Mae Burke, a resident of the Holland community, outlined the benefits she believes children get with a neighborhood school.

“You have more actively involved parents, and the school is more accessible to support,” she said. “We think that Holland needs this school, and we think that Holland deserves this school.”

Lorita Mayo, a 31-year educator who served as the principal at Southwestern for nine years, concurred with Burke.

“With a new school, we will be able to do more to meet the challenges of a 21st-century education,” Mayo said. “It is our time to be on the receiving end of services from the city.”

Susan Baines, who lives in the Holland community, compared the new school to a localized stimulus package.

“The contractors need jobs,” she said. She also pointed out that land prices are cheap right now, meaning that finding an affordable location will be easier if done sooner.

Enoch Copeland, who represents Holland on the School Board, also appealed for a new school. A replacement or renovation of Robertson Elementary School can be done later, if needed, he said, but the time to replace Southwestern is now.

The council had been considering a plan — hotly contested by the School Board — to combine the populations of the two rural schools and build a single school to serve both communities in a central location. There was no mention of that strategy on Wednesday.

Among Holland residents, lights for the Holland ball fields also are a concern, many said. The fields are used by the Holland Athletic Association, by neighborhood children and by the entire community at its annual Founders Day, a celebration of Ruritan International’s founding in Holland.

“Our Elvis Presley impersonator was singing in the dark one year (at Founders Day),” Mae Burke said, which elicited laughs from council members. “We do need lights in this field.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson agreed, saying she was there during last year’s National Night Out and it was one of the darkest places she had ever been.

The lights at the Holland ball field are not yet in the CIP, but the document is simply a plan that will get revamped as the years go by. In addition, projects that make it into the budget process in the first year still must go through the regular vetting process that the rest of the budget endures.

The first year of the plan also includes $790,000 for transportation projects.

Money from the Virginia Department of Transportation for improvements to U.S. Route 58, which are considered vital to the success of the CenterPoint Properties intermodal commerce center project, did not make it into the plan that was approved on Wednesday. Budget Officer Anne Seward has said that the city should not count on VDOT money in the next few years because of the shrinking state budget. Local money still could conceivably be used to pay for the project.