What should change about Prince Edward Elementary?

Published 5:21 am Tuesday, March 21, 2023

FARMVILLE – Parents of Prince Edward Elementary students want their children to feel safe in class. They want more seating options, bigger classrooms, more bathrooms and a school that feeds off solar energy. They’d like to see more opportunities for hands-on learning and places to display student work. And they’d like someone to fix those traffic problems. 

Members of Moseley Architects listened and took notes on Thursday, March 16, during a community meeting. The goal was to do just that, listen and collect information on what residents want to keep, what they want to eliminate and what they’d like to see added when renovations start on the school next year. 

That’s the biggest piece of information coming out of Thursday’s meeting, as we have a loose timeline of when things will be happening at Prince Edward Elementary. Stephen Halsey, the leader of Moseley’s K-12 Sector, said he and his team will start doing more detailed survey work within the next few weeks, while Prince Edward County and the school district put together a design committee of local residents, which he hopes will have 25 to 30 people on it. That should be happening by the end of April. Over the summer, Moseley’s team will take notes from these meetings and conversations with the design committee to put together a draft concept for the renovations. 

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“Then we’ll re-engage the school staff at the beginning of the fall, with some more detailed meetings, to understand what the needs are within each space,” Halsey said. “We’ll talk about technology, we’ll talk about (class needs).” 

Then the idea is to have a set of draft drawings, concepts about the school renovations, able to be seen by the public later this fall. 

“Then certainly by this time next year, we’ll be moving dirt and have the project underway,” Halsey said. 

What are the needs at Prince Edward Elementary? 

But first, they need to know what residents, teachers, administrators and students want out of an elementary school. That’s why the Richmond-based operation had a team meeting with all of those groups over the last two weeks. They asked three simple questions. What needs to stay? What needs to be removed? And what needs to be added? 

“What does the learning environment look like? What are the needs of the teachers and what does the physical space need to be to help those teachers conduct their class?” asked Moseley team member Chris Brown.  

One key part was safety. Multiple residents spoke up Thursday, saying they’ve seen too many school shootings on the news and wanted their children to be protected. Halsey said that would be a focus during the design process. 

“Our goal for security will be to try and harden the perimeter,” Halsey told the group. “I think the perimeter (of the school) is going to be much different than the way it is now.” 

Some parents were concerned about the fact there are so many ways to enter the school from the outside right now. Part of the process, Halsey said, will be to make sure all visitors have to enter through the front doors. They will also look at building in, as part of the design, places where students can hide in a classroom if need be, areas not as easily seen when walking in. They’re also looking at connecting classrooms through a interior corridor, rather than having so many doors leading to the outside. 

Other requests included things like a generator, in case the power fails. Also, some parents asked for a place where they could stay when picking up students, like a waiting room or a covered bench. People also asked for a lifetime warranty metal roof, which drew laughs and applause from the crowd. Fixing leaks in the current roof has been an ongoing problem for quite a while. 

Prince Edward Elementary

A look at one of the sketches from Moseley Architects. A possibility for the renovated Prince Edward Elementary.

Improving instructional work 

One thing Halsey said during Thursday’s discussion was that his group didn’t want to just repair the infrastructure. 

“The goal of this project is not only to address the infrastructure challenges, but also to improve the instructional work,” Halsey said. 

That means rethinking the way classrooms are designed, and how spaces in general are used. For example, the cafeteria could be reworked into a multipurpose facility. That means including retractable auditorium seating, something that can be flipped within 15 minutes. 

“(The goal is to) be able to reconfigure space to use every square foot within a building,” Halsey said. “That’s the best return on the use of public dollars.” 

He also suggested spaces that provide different types of seating for students to work. 

“For years, we’ve been expecting students to be sedentary and still during the instructional period,” Halsey said. “That’s just not human nature. We need to have furniture that supports the movement of students within a classroom.” 

He also said the team will look at places where instruction can happen beyond the classroom, including outdoor spaces. They’ll look at how vehicles move around campus and how students move around campus, to get a better idea of how all kinds of traffic flow. 

Traffic problems at Prince Edward Elementary

And yes, they’ll be working with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the county to help address the morning and afternoon traffic issues. As The Herald reported in December, VDOT officials have suggested several temporary fixes, while the Moseley group looks at permanent design changes. 

“(VDOT could) make it a one-way road on Zion Hill, so you can drop your kids off and then come back out on Granite Falls,” Scott Frederick told the Prince Edward supervisors in December. He works as VDOT’s resident engineer in Prince Edward County. “We could stagger start (and dismissal) times of the schools. We could put a temporary barricade in the middle (of the road) to direct traffic.” 

Since then, Frederick has been working with county and school district staff to see which of those (or other) options are feasible for a short-term fix. 

‘This is a process’ 

In addition to parents, Thursday’s crowd included a majority of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors and some members of the school board. Prince Edward County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson cautioned everyone that while work won’t immediately start, it will happen. 

“Please understand that this is a process,” she told the crowd.