From the Editor’s Desk — There are some stories I don’t want to write

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2022

There are some stories I hate writing. I’m not talking about covering court cases or sitting down to do feature interviews. I mean specific types of stories, where you know a situation could have been avoided but instead, nobody took action.

I said the same thing in 2015, when I was running the paper in Waynesboro. Waynesboro High School was built in 1937 and it showed. Many rooms didn’t have electrical outlets and the ones that did only included one or two. Many things still had the look and feel of early 20th century America. That was especially true of the load-bearing walls near the cafeteria. In 2015, the school board hired an architect to come in and see just how much longer they could keep using this building, putting off renovations to save money.

But the architects came back with a word of caution. The load-bearing walls at the cafeteria had actually exceeded their useful life. In fact, they told the school board, within five years from 2015 there’s a good chance these walls would just flat out collapse. Rebuilding or renovating isn’t cheap, of course, and so the city council and city school board both tried to figure out a way to keep kicking the can down the road. They wanted to avoid paying.

At that time, the paper was right across the road from Waynesboro High and I was asked to give my thoughts. I said I didn’t want to have to write “that” story, but if renovations didn’t happen, I sadly would. I didn’t want to hear or see the building collapse and then have to explain to the community through our coverage why their loved ones wouldn’t be coming home. I didn’t want to have reporters talking to teachers or family members, asking what this student or that student was like, after they died in a collapse. Or have to point out that the whole thing could have been avoided, if they had just figured out a repair plan.

Fortunately, Waynesboro High did go through renovations, The council and school board came to terms on a way to finance the project. The students and teachers now have a modern building and don’t run the risk of a building collapsing due to load-bearing walls that are more than 80 years old.

Now, what does that have to do with Prince Edward County, you ask? Quite a bit, because we’re in a similar situation. I’m not talking about school construction, although it plays a part. I’m talking about the traffic issues at Prince Edward Elementary. As you read in today’s front page story, picking up children there can be a disaster. Parents are blocked in by other drivers. Little children run through this mass of cars unattended, while drivers back out of spaces and speed through without looking. Confrontations are fairly regular, with parents or other family members yelling at each other over the situation.

Now, I can see the writing on the wall here and I know I’m not the only one. If there’s not a clear solution soon, someone is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s a traffic accident, with drivers running into each other as they both try to get out. Maybe it’s a fight, as parents snap after getting blocked in one too many times. Or maybe it’s a student, hit and possibly killed by a driver who wasn’t paying attention as they backed out or floored it to get out of the parking lot.

Prince Edward School Board member Doug Farley was right when he said safety of the students is the group’s most important task. And yet, more than two months after the first parent came and spoke to the board, nothing’s been done. Right now, the only plan is to ask the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at the elementary school to get involved. Either that or wait two to three years until renovations take place and the parking lot looks different. It appears to be following that pattern I saw in Waynesboro, trying to kick the can a bit further down the street. Can we really wait two to three years for a solution? Does anyone here truly believe we can keep rolling the dice that long with no negative consequences?

We have a small space and too many people trying to get in and out of it. It seems to me that we need at least one deputy or someone else out managing traffic, both entering and exiting. Yes, I know how much fun that’s not. I was a middle school baseball coach in Henry County and my wife is an assistant principal at Bassett High, after more than a decade of teaching. I’ve had to manage kids waiting for their parents and I’ve seen the challenges involved as she coordinates buses and handles the car rider line. It can be like herding cats at the best of times, but that’s better than the alternative.

Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said part of the problem was that more than 50 students at a time are being released two to three minutes apart. It seems like letting bus riders go first, then staggering release times for those remaining students (by class, by age, however you want to do it) could be a temporary fix until the new construction permanently addresses the issue. And yes, I know people would complain.

Regardless of what option gets picked, we do need one. The one thing we can’t do here is just pretend if we ignore the problem, it’ll go away. That doesn’t end well and as I said, I really don’t want to have to write that story.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@ FarmvilleHerald.com.