Groundbreakings for new schools

Published 9:56 pm Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday saw the historic groundbreakings at two public schools in Suffolk that are slated to open in 2018 and relieve overcrowding in North Suffolk schools.

Members of the city’s public school administration, the city’s school board and the city council were in attendance at Friday’s two events.

“This is truly a great day for the city of Suffolk,” Mayor Linda Johnson said during her remarks.

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The two schools are Florence Bowser Elementary School and a yet-to-be-named middle school.

Suffolk Public Schools administrators, School Board members and City Council members participate in Friday’s groundbreaking at the new middle school.

Suffolk Public Schools administrators, School Board members and City Council members participate in Friday’s groundbreaking at the new middle school.

Blueridge General, a Norfolk-based contractor, is heading both projects.

“These schools are a part of Suffolk’s bright future,” said Eric Stichler, Blueridge General president.

Florence Bowser was originally dedicated to its namesake in 1963. Bowser was an educator for more than 50 years and taught in Suffolk and other Virginia localities.

Bowser’s family members also participated in the school’s groundbreaking.

“Education has been very important in our family,” said Bonita Gilchrist, one of Bowser’s great-granddaughters.

“We’re so appreciative they’re keeping the name where it needs to be.”

Florence Landy, another of Bowser’s great-granddaughters, said the school “started from a kernel of faith, and it has continued.”

Bowser worked tirelessly to raise funds for a new school in Suffolk. Eventually, in 1920, she acquired a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to build a four-room schoolhouse. Rosenwald funded many schools for African-American students throughout the South.

The original schoolhouse stood a few feet from where the larger Florence Bowser Elementary was built in 1963. Both have been demolished to make way for the new elementary school.

For close to 15 years, Florence Bowser and Driver Elementary were paired schools, serving pre-kindergarten through first grade and second through fifth grade, respectively. In the meantime, Florence Bowser students and teachers have been moved to Driver.

The new building is expected to be more than 114,800 square feet and total more than $20.9 million, according to Stichler. The school will house more than 1,000 students.

The building will include a cafeteria and a media center. There will also be several recreational fields for softball, soccer and other sports.

The new middle school, located on Burbage Drive, is expected to be a $25.1 million project, is a two-story, 125,200-square-foot building, Stichler said.

The school, which will accommodate about 800 students, will include more than 25 classrooms, an auditorium, a media center and soccer and softball fields.

Both schools will have unique spaces designated for project-based learning. This learning approach is more collaborative and allows students to work together and share what they have learned through presentations.

Dr. Deran Whitney, superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, said in following the national trend of more interactive learning, “we were able to design [the schools] as such.”