Board approves capital plan

Published 10:47 pm Friday, September 9, 2016

The Suffolk School Board on Thursday approved a 10-year plan for capital improvements that projects spending $16.3 million in the first year.

The plan is revised and approved every year, and the first year of projects is submitted for consideration by the City Council during the spring budget process.

Planned expenditures this year include the final $14.2 million needed to fund the new elementary and middle schools being built in North Suffolk.

Email newsletter signup

In addition, a $1 million design cost is proposed this year for a 10-classroom addition to Northern Shores Elementary School. The plan is to fund the construction of it in fiscal year 2019 and open it in fiscal year 2010.

“We are considering adding a wing of 10 classrooms to help with the overcrowding in that building and the mobile units,” said Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Napier.

A similar addition at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School would follow much the same pattern, only it would open a year later, if all goes according to plan.

“There’s mobile units now, and we think there’s going to be more,” Napier said. “They’re building neighborhoods around that school as we speak. We already have more kids there than we should have.”

Other proposed projects include the Driver Center, which would be the repurposed Driver Elementary School after students vacate it in two years to go to the new Florence Bowser Elementary School.

Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney said he is considering some type of alternative program at the site.

Another repurposed school building would be the former Mount Zion Elementary School on Pruden Boulevard. An operations facility that would include the facilities department, print shop, textbooks, records and other support departments is proposed there. An architect completed plans for the site about four years ago, but the plan has not yet been put into action.

Further into the future, school officials are thinking about replacing John F. Kennedy, John Yeates and Forest Glen middle schools with new schools on new land. They were all built in 1965, meaning they are 51 years old and counting.

“If you get 50 years out of it, that building doesn’t owe you anything,” Napier said of school buildings in general.

Napier said the division has abandoned the idea that it can conduct massive renovations of a school building while students continue to attend there.

“That is really not a feasible option for us,” he said. “I’m not sure it ever was. It’s a difficult proposition all the way around to try to renovate a school with no place to put kids.”

A new high school in North Suffolk also is in the plan, although Napier said it and projects further in the future are just “placeholders.”

However, School Board members seemed concerned.

“I think we need to start talking about a new high school at this point,” board member Lorraine Skeeter said. “We need to get plans in place for another high school.”

Whitney said that while Nansemond River High School is over capacity, Lakeland and King’s Fork have 300 to 400 available seats combined.

“That’s one of the reasons why it isn’t a higher priority,” he said.

“There are a lot of developments now going on in the northern end,” Skeeter said, noting that it wouldn’t make sense to ask someone who lives on Nansemond Parkway to go to Lakeland High School.

Board member Linda Bouchard noted that, while the school population has not increased significantly in the last few years, it is burgeoning in the northern end.

“The city is allowing this to happen in the north and they’re not opening up the south the way maybe they should,” she said.

Chairman Dr. Mike Debranski said the board should plan a discussion with City Council soon about the issue.

“This is a good topic for discussion when we meet with City Council,” he said.