By Debbie Hall
A facilities study noted that closing one of the county’s six elementary schools would save between $290,000 and $320,000 per year, depending on which school is shuttered. But closing a school as a cost saving measure was not recommended.
The issue came to the forefront recently after a member of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors suggested it was time to consider closing a school to save money.
A majority of supervisors have since nixed the suggestion, and school officials said any savings resulting from a closure would remain in the school division’s budget. Savings would not decrease the amount of local funds the school system seeks from the county because funding is based solely on the number of students enrolled.
The study, issued in 2020 and titled “Elementary School Facility Condition Assessment and Elementary School Facilities Capital Improvement Plan Report,” also recommended against closing a school.
It was prepared by Downey & Scott, LLC, a construction management firm in Warrenton, Va. When commissioning the study, the school division was looking at options to decrease expenses and gather information about maintenance/utility costs and other data about each school building.
The study did not include Patrick County High School.
All schools included in the study serve pre-K through seventh grade (unless otherwise noted), and each is operating below capacity in terms of the number of students it can hold. That information, along with 2019 Average Daily Membership (ADM), size and other data is listed below:
- Blue Ridge, which in 2019 had 275 ADM, for a 95 percent capacity use of the 56,284 square-foot building. The school’s capacity is 290 students.
- Hardin Reynolds, which is currently the closest to operating like a middle school, serves grades 4 through 7, and in 2019, was at 91 percent capacity with 265 ADM and 56,597 square-feet. The school’s capacity is 290 students.
- Meadows of Dan, which in 2019 used 60 percent of its 52,312 square-foot building capacity with 120 ADM. The school’s capacity is 250 students.
- Patrick Springs, which serves grades pre-k through 3, was at 91 percent of its capacity in 2019, with 273 ADM attending the 61,568 square-foot facility. The school’s capacity is 300 students.
- Stuart’s 97,748 square-foot facility was at 91 percent capacity, with 406 ADM in 2019. The school’s capacity is 500 students.
- Woolwine had 170 ADM in 2019, for 50 percent capacity in its 69,048 square-foot building. The school’s capacity is 340 students.
General information about the project:
When gathering data, the consultants visited each facility, toured the building and grounds, and interviewed each school’s onsite leadership when gathering data, according to the report.
During those visits and interviews, “there were several issues that almost all the six facilities commonly shared. These common threads by and large are” exterior pavements needing repairs, consistent compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), systems replacement for HVAC in future years, systems replacement for roofs in future years, limited areas of moisture incursions into building.
Only one of the six schools – Meadows of Dan – fully complies with current building codes and the (ADA). The facility also is the newest, having been rebuilt after a 2013 fire, according to the report.
All of the facilities “were examined for their major systems such as Site Circulation, Building Envelope, Roof, Finishes, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing systems are modern and generally in good operating condition. During the site visits, the buildings showed pride of ownership and appear well maintained,” the report stated.
It listed the total for capital improvements to the six facilities as calculated over the 10-year period at nearly $8 million, and noted that “Building Administrators and Custodial Staff are performing their facility responsibilities well.”
The 46-page final report, issued Feb. 15, 2020, includes several sections – a 10-year capital improvement plan/2019 facility condition assessment; a summary of facility planning options; recommendations about future facility planning and information gleaned from each elementary school and a questionnaire.
The remainder of this story focuses on general information in the report and the potential cost savings of closing a facility.
Options outlined in the report:
The report included several options. School closings – Options B through G – would involve redistricting/rezoning all five remaining school boundaries and “would be painful and traumatic to each school community,” the report stated.
Option A involves repurposing Stuart Elementary as a middle school for students in grades 6-8. The costs of renovations included ‘hard construction costs’ of $3,100,000 for minor building renovations; $930,000 for site improvements parking and travel ways, and $806,000 for ‘soft construction costs, for a minimum total of $4.8 million. Annual savings for utilities and operations were listed as zero.
Option B – closing Blue Ridge and redistributing students to the remaining five facilities, with estimated savings for utilities and operations were listed at $300,000 per year.
Option C – closing Hardin Reynolds, also with savings of $300,000 per year.
Option D – closing Meadows of Dan, with an estimated $290,000 savings each year.
Option E – closing Patrick Springs, with annual savings estimated at $300,000.
Option F – closing Stuart, for an estimated annual savings of $320,000.
Option G – closing Woolwine, with an estimated savings of $300,000 per year.
Four recommendations were included in the report:
*Do not close any of the School Facilities, unless there is absolutely no alternative. Education is the primary foundation to creating a viable economic development program and long-term workforce development program.
*Consider the benefits of a Middle School program with grades 6-8 with emphasis on workforce development prior to Patrick County students entering the High School program.
*Perform a needs assessment within each school community to obtain feedback from parents, grandparents, businesses, veterans’ groups, churches and other community stakeholders. Issues to examine could include childcare, workforce development, healthcare, dietary needs and food supply. Implement a strong community outreach program for each school community and involve social media influencers who hold influence in shaping public opinions regarding schools and the needed public investments.
*For the next update of the Patrick County Comprehensive Plan, identify that all existing school sites located in designated growth/economic development areas in the Comp Plan Map document. Overarching themes and values of the County Comprehensive Plan are reflected in the focus of the goals, objectives and strategies of the Plan. These themes include:
- Protection and enhancement of the natural and cultural assets of the county.
- Smart and planned development in areas of the county best suited and supported by appropriate infrastructure to sustain targeted growth and uses.
- Protection and support for the agricultural resources and vistas in the county.
- Support for adequate and appropriate community services and amenities available to all citizens in an equitable and accessible way.
- An appropriate balance between individual property rights and the community’s goals for K-12 public education facilities.