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Suggesting a name change raised public ire and focused attention on the old Blacksburg Middle School site.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Members of the Blacksburg Town Council and the Montgomery County School Board on Wednesday blasted a suggestion that the new Blacksburg High School be renamed.
“I really don’t understand the motivation behind it, or why the supervisors think it’s important,” school board Chairman Wendell Jones said of Tuesday’s vote by county supervisors.
Supervisors agreed to ask the school board to consider other names for the new high school that will open in Blacksburg this fall. Supervisor Chris Tuck made the suggestion.
“Here’s my definition of leadership — when you don’t waste people’s time. And this is a waste of time,” Jones said. “If this is some attempt to get some reaction out of the town council, then I think putting us in the middle is a very poor thing to do.”
Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam agreed. “I think it’s a diversion from the real issues we should be talking about,” he said.
As reaction spread to the supervisors’ 4-2 vote — Mary Biggs and Annette Perkins opposed renaming, Matt Gabriele was not at the meeting — county officials shifted their focus from the high school back to the old Blacksburg Middle School site.
In a letter sent Wednesday from Montgomery County Administrator Craig Meadows to Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel, the county called on town officials to restart joint meetings about the former middle school property in hopes of smoothing out a development proposal that is making its way through the town’s review process.
“Both the Town and County want to see the OBMS site developed to its highest and best use consistent with the Master Plan, and we both agree that only through the cooperation of our two elected boards will this vision be achieved,” Meadows wrote.
County and town officials have discussed the old middle school site for years, and the county had broken off joint meetings about it in February, saying there was nothing to discuss until an actual development proposal was filed.
Meadows said that supervisors now want town and county officials to sit down with Fiddler’s Green Partners, which in late March filed a development plan for the old middle school site. Supervisors also want to bring in a consultant who helped write the master plan that the town and county created for the property. The consultant recently assisted Blacksburg staff in their review of the proposal, part of the lead-up to an expected council vote in August on two rezoning requests that are needed for the development. In the review, the consultant and staff found that Fiddler’s Green Partners’ Midtown Village proposal did not meet the master plan’s guidelines.
“It appears that a number of items in the developers’ rezoning proposal need further clarification and refinement,” Meadows wrote. Meetings over the next 60 to 90 days might address concerns about the plan, he suggested.
The county would cover the costs of bringing consultant Tripp Muldrow of Arnett Muldrow & Associates of Greenville, S.C., into the process, Meadows wrote.
Rordam wrote in an email Wednesday evening that he had no immediate comment on the county proposal.
The fate of the old middle school site has long been linked to the new high school in Blacksburg. When the old Blacksburg High School was closed in 2010 after its gym roof collapsed and other structural issues were found, supervisors agreed to build a new school. The decision ballooned the county’s debt and led to real estate tax rate increases to help pay for it.
Supervisors have been trying for years to sell the old Blacksburg Middle School site to raise money for school needs. Some supervisors have criticized the Blacksburg Town Council for what they see as an overly drawn-out review of development proposals for the site. The county contracted with Fiddler’s Green Partners for the sale of the middle school site, but the deal depends on the town council approving the rezoning.
Tuesday’s renaming vote was widely seen as a jab at the town over the Midtown Village review process.
“If this is some attempt to generate some sort of reaction or action out of the town of Blacksburg,” Jones said, “then again I think it speaks to the leadership question. I don’t see as how it is even relevant to what they’re trying to do with the old Blacksburg Middle School site.”
In an email, school board member Joe Ivers called Tuck “the lightening rod” [sic] of the supervisors, the school board, “and now the Blacksburg Town Council.” Ivers said he suspects Tuck has other motives and wrote in the email, “What political office is [he] setting himself up for?”
Town council member Michael Sutphin wrote in an email that Blacksburg’s support for quality schools should not be questioned, and need not conflict with quality economic development.
“Without a doubt, this is Chris Tuck’s attempt to retaliate against the Blacksburg Town Council over the recent developments concerning the Midtown Village proposal,” Sutphin wrote, and cited a Wednesday email from Tuck to a constituent that was copied to council members.
Tuck had told supervisors that he wanted the school board to look into names such as Western Montgomery High School because “it’s something we should consider to make our schools more diverse.”
Afterward, Tuck declined to call the measure a slap at the Blacksburg Town Council, saying he would stick to what he said earlier.
But in the email that Sutphin cited, Tuck was more direct. Replying to a resident who was criticizing his renaming idea, Tuck wrote, “I think some of the Board members who voted for discussing potential names with the School Board are very frustrated with the Blacksburg Town Council and their lack of commitment to support education in the County. … When the town unreasonably delays the project it does not appear to be supporting local education.”
Reached late Wednesday night, Tuck said he had been answering emails about the name proposal all day. Saying he didn’t speak for all the supervisors, Tuck said he thinks many of his colleagues “are frustrated and angry” with the slow process around the middle school. Suggesting a school name change raised public ire, but it also focused attention on the old middle school site, Tuck said.
“It has brought it to the forefront and hopefully we’ll be moving on with the old Blacksburg Middle School with perhaps more scrutiny from the public,” Tuck said.
Jones said the renaming vote did not contribute to better relations between the supervisors and the school board.
“The residents of Montgomery County should look at this as an example of why this county is so far behind on some things. … My question would be is how does this move the county forward?” Jones said.
Jones urged residents who want to talk about the renaming vote to speak to supervisors, not to the school board. The school system has a policy for renaming facilities — probably most often used for naming an athletic field after someone — and would follow it if a formal request came to change the name of the new school, Jones said.
Rordam said he does not think that the renaming proposal will affect the town council’s decision on Midtown Village.
“We’re going to deal with Midtown Village as we’ve always talked about — we’re going to look at how it agrees with the master plan,” Rordam said.
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