New middle school: 800 pupils

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, September 10, 2015

A new middle school in North Suffolk will be built to accommodate 800 students, the Suffolk School Board decided on Thursday.

The board approved a capital improvements plan that aims to build a new middle school for 800 students to open in 2018. Its decision was a reiteration of prior statements that anything less than 800 just won’t do.

“I wouldn’t even look at 650,” board member Enoch Copeland said during the discussion, referring to a lower number of students proposed by school staff.

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Terry Napier, director of facilities and planning, said the 650 number was a “funding consideration.” Already the city’s draft capital improvements plan proposes less funding than the school division believes it would need for the lower number, Napier said.

Therefore, the division proposed requesting bids for construction at 650 students with the option to submit alternative prices for 800.

“Why don’t we go with 800 in the beginning?” Copeland asked.

Superintendent Deran Whitney said he agrees with the larger number.

“We see the need for 800 students,” he said.

Schools in North Suffolk are full to bursting, according to this year’s enrollment numbers. Thursday morning, John Yeates Middle School reported the third-highest enrollment of all schools in the district, surpassing even Lakeland High School, with 1,219 students.

Making the new middle school larger was the only change the board made in its staff’s proposed capital improvements plan before approving it.

The plan also recommends $8 million in the next five years for replacements of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. However, Napier said the energy performance contracting program the city and school system are pursuing jointly will help with that cost if it comes to fruition.

“If we decide to go that direction, it will help a great deal,” he said. A preliminary assessment of how much the local government could save on its energy costs will be conducted in the next few months. Through the state-approved program, the contractor that does the energy improvements guarantees the savings on energy costs will cover the debt service on the improvements. If it does not, the contractor writes a check for the difference.

A new northern elementary school for 1,000 students also is set to open in 2018. Driver and Florence Bowser elementary schools would be closed that year.

“Those would go off of our inventory and become whatever the city chooses to do with them at that point,” Napier said.

Also proposed in the 2018-19 school year is the renovation of the former Mt. Zion Elementary School to become an operations facility, which would include textbook storage, the print shop, food service and other functions. The city’s plan, however, pushes that project out to 2020-21.

The school system has also proposed a renovation for John F. Kennedy Middle School in 2018-19, but the city’s plan pushes that to 2021-22.