Committee recommends closing two schools

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, September 10, 2009

A committee recommended closing Mount Zion and Florence Bowser elementary schools during a presentation to the School Board Thursday.

The board will meet Sept. 30 to discuss the non-binding recommendations and possibly adopt a plan of their own.

The 11-member committee of residents and city representatives was formed to evaluate the schools’ capital improvements plan. Besides closing the two schools, they also recommended building four schools and an operations center, and renovating or remodeling nine schools in the next 15 years.

“At least you have a plan,” School Board member Enoch Copeland said following the presentation. “You have done an excellent job.”

Copeland admitted, however, that he had some concerns about the timing of recommended projects. The group recommended a project for every fiscal year between 2011 and 2024.

The committee recommended closing Florence Bowser Elementary School in 2015, and closing Mount Zion Elementary School in 2019.

The student population at Florence Bowser, the committee recommended, could be moved to Driver Elementary School, which it suggested could be renovated and expanded the year before.

Currently, Florence Bowser hosts students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade, while Driver serves students in grades 2-5 in the same area. Florence Bowser’s aging building was built in 1962, while Driver is slightly newer, having been built in 1968.

Mount Zion Elementary School also was built in 1962, and the lot is too small to allow for future growth, the committee found. They recommended its closure in 2019.

“The committee recommends that Mount Zion Elementary be closed,” Gerry Jones, a member of the committee, said. Jones is the director of capital programs and projects for the city of Suffolk.

“The committee does not believe that it’s feasible to renovate or expand this facility,” Jones continued. “The site is less than 12 acres, and the core facilities are inadequate. There’s no room for adequate growth to meet program needs on this site.”

The committee recommended moving Mount Zion’s population to Elephant’s Fork Elementary School after a renovation and addition the year before.

Not surprisingly, the committee recommended the board’s first move in 2011 should be a new 650-student elementary school to be constructed to replace the aging Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools. The group gave no suggestions of possible locations for the school, but suggested the old buildings could be used for community centers.

“There is insufficient population currently at Robertson Elementary School to justify separate replacement schools for both Southwestern and Robertson,” Jones said.

The committee also recommended a new middle school in North Suffolk in 2012 to relieve overcrowding at John Yeates Middle School, which used 12 mobile units in spring 2009, more than any other Suffolk school at that time.

In 2013, the committee recommended, the board should build a new operations facility to replace the 1955 building on Freeney Avenue.

“The current facility is completely outdated and is insufficient for efficiently supporting modern school facilities,” Jones said. “Numerous problems were identified at the current facility, including a lack of central heating and air, temporary roofing, moisture problems and inadequate loading facilities.”

In 2023 and 2024, new elementary and high schools should be built in the North Suffolk area to accommodate projected growth, the committee recommended.

The committee also recommended renovations, remodels and additions for John Yeates Middle School (built in 1965), John F. Kennedy Middle School (1965), Forest Glen Middle School (1965), Elephant’s Fork Elementary School (1979), Lakeland High School (1991), Nansemond River High School (1991), Kilby Shores Elementary School (1979) and Nansemond Parkway Elementary School (1979).

Every school in the district not recommended for closure or renovation has been built since 1996.

There was no discussion about the cost of the proposed projects.

Superintendent Milton Liverman praised the committee, saying “they didn’t just sit down and look at paper.” The group visited six Suffolk schools and the maintenance facility, along with the operations facility for Newport News Public Schools as a comparison.