When will renovations start at Prince Edward County Elementary?

Published 4:36 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

FARMVILLE – There’s still a lot of work to do before renovations at Prince Edward County Elementary can start. Multiple decisions have to be made, including when school in the county should start next fall. 

Four and a half months after Prince Edward supervisors voted to move forward with the $43.3 million project, the contract with Moseley Architects has been signed, but the actual design is very much a work in progress. 

At the Aug. 30 meeting, when supervisors signed off on the project, Moseley staff said they expected to have the designs finished by mid-October, to be looked at and approved over the final two months of 2023. But negotiating over contract language and getting the final version signed took nearly three months, pushing everything back a bit. Speaking to the Prince Edward school board during their Wednesday, Jan. 17 meeting, Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson outlined where things currently stand. 

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Telling the board she’s had several conversations with Moseley staff before and after the Christmas break, Johnson explained the company plans to meet with elementary teachers and staff in the coming weeks. 

“They want to meet with administration, (the) head nurse, PE, library, art, music, special ed and of course, the grade levels,” Johnson said. “They are starting to ask very specific things about the needs of the spaces.” 

She added that Moseley staff want to talk with each group for about 45 minutes, to get a sense of what teachers and other staff need from the spaces. 

Currently, the rough timeline is to have a design ready no later than March 31. That’ll get submitted to the county and go through the regular review process, with the plan to have the building permit by June or July. And then, the mobile units get delivered.  

What about the mobile units? 

Now, when all this construction is happening next fall, the students have to be somewhere else. That would be in mobile classrooms, set up on the property’s blacktop. Prince Edward staff had some specific requests, so the Moseley group is also helping them find classrooms. 

“They are looking at classrooms that have multiple classrooms in one unit, as opposed to individual trailers, as that’s what we absolutely would prefer,” Johnson said. “(It’s) actually a little more expensive, but that’s ok, it is worth it.” 

School board member Dr. Timothy Corbett asked for details about the mobile units, specifically what they would look like and if teachers would still have space to work.

“If you get a big, multi-classroom unit, we would love to have between 9-12 classrooms in there, that takes care of about a grade level,” Johnson said. “That would be huge, but it depends on the size of the classrooms. You’re not gonna have that same kind of space (as a regular classroom).” 

But that’s what school district staff want, not what they have. Until Moseley staff comes back to the district with what’s actually available to rent, starting this July, they won’t know exactly what the classrooms look like. And Johnson cautioned the board that once construction starts, students will need to move in and out of the mobile classrooms. 

“We may have Pre-K and Kindergarten out there for first semester,” Johnson said. “Then (after) winter break, we flip and (bring in) third and fourth grade. They want to start with (classes from) Building E and Building F because that’s the buildings that will be pushed down (during renovations).” 

Both E & F are the two oldest buildings at the elementary school and part of the plan involves demolishing them. In their place will be new construction connecting the remaining buildings, making it much easier to travel between classrooms. But that construction is going to take time, meaning different classes will move in and out of the mobile units as needed. As for when that relocation starts, it’s another thing yet to be decided. 

Should Prince Edward delay school? 

What if portable classrooms don’t get here until August? What if it takes longer than expected to get the building permit? With so much still up in the air, Johnson asked board members to consider another option: possibly postponing the start of school this fall in order to match when construction begins. 

“We don’t have to start school at the beginning of August, it has been our practice,” Johnson told the board. “We can start school later, but to start school later means we go later. The portables are supposed to be here in July, (but) what if (they) don’t get here and then we start school in August? Then in mid-August they’re ready to move children. Is that really what we want to do? Suppose we started after Labor Day for this one year. Then does that give us enough time to get everything here and set up?”  

Johnson said she loved starting school early because that means they can get out by May, but it doesn’t have to work like that. 

“There is nothing in our policies that say that’s what we have to do,” Johnson said. 

That’s just something she wanted board members to think about. For the February meeting, she plans to have proposed calendar options for the fall. At least one would include a delayed start, while the other would begin classes like normal. 

“We’re trying to be very thoughtful about how we do that,” Johnson said, talking about examining calendar options. 

And as board members think about options, they may need to look beyond just this fall. 

Prince Edward County Elementary timeline 

The biggest question we’ve received about Prince Edward County Elementary, aside from when construction will start, is when it will end. And the answer to that is somewhat up in the air. Moseley staff have the project listed at 30 months. Johnson believes it’ll be finished before then. 

“It’s not going to take 30 months, but we have to take into consideration weather, we have to take into consideration logical movement, because we’re still going to be held accountable for everything that we’re held accountable for now by the state,” Johnson said. “Great things are happening, but we’re going to have to be patient, because this will be smooth but it is not simple. We’re going to have to be patient in this whole process.”