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Candidates discuss possible new school
Funding at center of John Redd Smith, Collinsville Primary future

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Selling bonds is one of the ways some candidates for Henry County School Board mentioned as a means to replace John Redd Smith Elementary and Collinsville Primary with a combined K-5 school.

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said he expects that project will continue to top the school division’s capital improvement project priority list when an architect makes recommendations about school facilities needs later this year, taking projected enrollments into account.

“A number of localities have floated bond referendums” for school construction, Curtis Millner Sr. said. He is running unopposed in the Nov. 5 election for a fourth term as Iriswood District representative on the Henry County School Board.

Another alternative for funding might be a public-private partnership in which a private company builds a school and sells it to a school division, which pays off the debt over, say, 20 years, Millner said.

Another possible option for funding is establishing a joint capital improvement project fund that allows a county government and a county school system to share resources rather than compete, he said.

Also, he said, “Martinsville is much smaller than we are. If they can come up with money to renovate all their schools, I don’t see why Henry County can’t.”

Martinsville High School debuted renovations this school year, and the city’s two elementary schools and middle school also

have been renovated in recent years.

Millner said renovating Sanville Elementary School also is a high priority of his. The school has several mobile classrooms, which “presents a security problem,” he said. Previously he mentioned upgrading Stanleytown Elementary as another priority.

Candidates for the Blackberry District seat on the school board are Henry County Sheriff’s deputy Michael Hooper and retired educator Thomas “Tom” Auker.

Auker said selling bonds might be the best way to fund a John Redd Smith/Collinsville Primary project, but there might be other alternatives.

“Those schools need to be combined,” he said, adding that he thinks John Redd Smith needs to be replaced.

He said he needs to look into the issue further before saying more.

Hooper said he would have to look into the issue before he could comment on the situation. However, he said something needs to be done to address traffic back-ups when children are dropped off and picked up.

Dr. Merris Stambaugh, who is conducting a write-in campaign for the Collinsville District seat on the county school board, said he would need to look into the matter, including financial obstacles and current conditions of the schools, before commenting about replacing John Redd Smith and Collinsville Primary with a combined school.

In general, “philosophically,” he thinks attracting and retaining good teachers and administrators is a higher priority than the John Redd Smith/Collinsville Primary project unless safety and building code issues are involved, he said.

John Redd Smith was constructed in 1952, and two annexes were added in 1961. That was the last comprehensive renovation at the school — longer ago than at any other school in the division, school division officials have said.

Among the issues and challenges at John Redd Smith that officials mentioned during a tour in January were: original windows due for an upgrade, inefficient heating and air-conditioning units, inadequate storage space in classrooms, the need for lighting improvements, demands on the school’s electrical system to accommodate modern technology, inadequate space in the media center, some narrow hallways with exposed piping, and multiple levels throughout the school with no internal handicapped ramps.

According to a PowerPoint presentation in January, Collinsville Primary School was constructed in 1968. Air-conditioning was added in 2003, and the roof was replaced in 2011. The school had three mobile units, creating a “vulnerability issue.” The bus loop and car rider loop caused traffic back-ups.

The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system was added to the energy management system in 2012. It was the only school with a combined gym, cafeteria and auditorium.

Cotton said the current sites of John Redd Smith and Collinsville Primary, which are close together, are landlocked, with not a lot of room for expansion or growth. Acquiring land for a combined school could be a challenge, he said.

A new elementary school could cost anywhere from $10 million to $15 million “if we’re lucky” or as high as $20 million, depending on various factors, Cotton said.


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