MILFORD – Six citizens will be appointed to help county officials decide what to do about Caroline High School, which needs millions of dollars in renovations.
Two members of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors – 2012 chairman Wayne Acors and vice chairman Floyd Thomas – have been meeting privately in recent months with two members of the Caroline County School Board – chairman Nancy Carson and vice chairman George Spaulding – to discuss budget-related issues.
From those meetings came the idea to create the Caroline High School Design Review Committee. The Board of Supervisors will work with the School Board to select citizens for the committee.
During the regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening of last week, County Administrator Charles Culley noted that school officials are looking at a possible $20 million renovation and expansion of the high school. The high school project is the top priority in the revised capital improvements plan the School Board adopted last fall.
The high school’s capacity is 1,100 students, but it will exceed 1,400 students in three years, said Superintendent Greg Killough. The proposed project includes adding 10 classrooms and four vocational labs that would increase capacity to 1,800 students.
The project also includes improvements to athletic facilities and replacing or renovating the roof, windows, heating and air conditioning systems, lighting and electrical service, and more.
Renovating and expanding the high school would be more cost effective at this stage than building a new high school, Killough has said. A new high school would cost an estimated $60-70 million to build.
“We just want to get another set of eyes from people in the community to look at this,” Culley told supervisors.
Supervisor Jeff Sili asked how far long in the design process the high school project is. Thomas said that “some design work and conceptual plans have been done.”
However, Thomas noted, “No one has said we have $20 million or that we’ll borrow $20 million or put forth a referendum for $20 million.”
“So this is in lieu of building a new high school?” asked Supervisor Calvin Taylor. “I wouldn’t want to spend $20 million and in six or seven years come back and they say we need to build a new high school.”
Supervisor Wayne Acors noted that nearby school divisions have built new high schools in recent years, and the price tags were as much as $70 million. Renovating and expanding the high school would make useable for another 10-15 years, he said.
The high school was built in 1975, noted Acors, and the heating and air conditioning systems sorely need to be upgraded. “They’ll have to pull out all the duct work, and it will be $11 to $12 million for that project,” he said.
The committee will examine the proposed project and probably find items that can be eliminated “to save a half million for this and a half million for that,” Acors said.
“Trust me, we will have a lot of meetings with the school board this year,” Thomas said.
The school division has other long-term building needs, including a $16 million proposal to convert the old Ladysmith Elementary School, now used for the Diversified Learning Center, into a new elementary school for 700 students. Another proposal calls for renovations and additions to Madison Elementary School, which is already over capacity. Lewis & Clark Elementary School, which opened in 2008, already is nearing capacity.
Also, school officials see a need for renovating Caroline Middle School and building athletic fields and eventually constructing a new 900-student elementary school somewhere in the vicinity of the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.
The Madison Elementary project would cost an estimated $3 million. The middle school project would cost an estimated $16 million, and the new elementary school, $23-24 million. The five projects together would cost an estimated $79-80 million.
The school division is experiencing a growing student population, mainly in the Ladysmith area, Killough has said.