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Inside look: $30 million renovations ongoing at William Byrd High School

Improvements worth $30 million are underway at William Byrd High School, providing well-needed refreshment to the 50-year-old building, said Principal Tammy Newcomb.

“It’s a complete renovation,” Newcomb said Thursday. “When it’s finished, the building will be practically brand new.”

Early progress on renovations at the 1969 brick-faced high school, located on Washington Avenue in Vinton, are buzzing along, she said. Contractors have been hammering away at the project since spring, and expect to be finished in July 2023.

Roanoke-based companies Avis Construction and Hughes Associates were awarded the $27.5 million contract with Roanoke County Schools. Soft costs for furniture, utility connections, gym flooring and more tally an additional $3.2 million, giving the project its $30.7 million price tag.

Roanoke County plans to approve $22.4 million of school bonds to fund the renovations, to be paid off over years to come, with the other $8.3 million paid for out of pocket.

Previously, the project cost increased by $7.4 million, requiring the county in June to divert funds from other school improvement projects.

“It’s happening pretty quickly.” Newcomb said of the renovations. “Everything has gone really smoothly.”

Classrooms are temporarily displaced as construction moves through the building, she said. Presently, English and math classes are in mobile classrooms outside, while science and social studies remain inside.

“The math and the English hallways are already completely gutted and new materials have been coming in,” Newcomb said. “It’s a complete renovation: floor, ceiling, doors. They’re taking the lockers out.”

The choir is singing and the band is parading about new music rooms coming, too, she said.

“We’ve not had a choir room, we’ve always had to share the music room with choir and band,” Newcomb said. “Both programs have grown so much that it’s caused some scheduling issues.”

Art classrooms and the weight room are also expanding. New space shared between the wrestling team and cheerleaders will similarly allow those sports a better place to practice, she said.

“Those kids can practice in the building and not have to go up behind the stadium,” Newcomb said. “We are renovating and getting larger bathrooms, because we have not had enough bathroom facilities.”

The project will also provide new roofing, firewalls, sprinkler system, and new mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. All plumbing fixtures will be replaced, and lights replaced with LED fixtures.

Ease of access is increasing too, with an additional elevator being installed and the entrance redesigned to be ADA-compliant, Newcomb said.

Additions over the years — in 2010, 1996 and 1987 — left a mosaic of various tile flooring across different wings of the building, contrasting with the original terrazzo floors from 1969, she said.

“If you walk through different parts of our building you can tell when it was done by the flooring,” Newcomb said. “It was like walking through a time-warp. That’ll all be taken care of.”

US has enough COVID-19 vaccines for boosters, kids' shots
With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they’re confident there will be enough for every American who qualifies

MADISON, Wis. — With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they’re confident there will be enough for both qualified older Americans seeking booster shots and the young children for whom initial vaccines are expected to be approved in the not-too-distant future.

The spike in demand — expected following last week’s federal recommendation on booster shots — would be the first significant jump in months. More than 70 million Americans remain unvaccinated despite the enticement of lottery prizes, free food or gifts and pleas from exhausted health care workers as the average number of deaths per day climbed to more than 1,900 in recent weeks.

Federal and state health authorities said current supply and steady production of more doses can easily accommodate those seeking boosters or initial vaccination, avoiding a repeat of the frustratingly slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country early this year.

“I hope that we have the level of interest in the booster ... that we need more vaccines,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. “That’s simply not where we are today. We have plenty of vaccines.”

Robust supply in the U.S enabled President Joe Biden this week to promise an additional 500 million of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world, doubling the United States’ global contribution. Aid groups and health organizations have pushed the U.S. and other countries to improve vaccine access in countries where even the most vulnerable people haven’t had a shot.

Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste. Several states with low vaccination rates, including Idaho and Kansas, have reported throwing away thousands of expired doses or are struggling to use vaccines nearing expiration this fall.

While most vaccines can stay on the shelf unopened for months, once a vial is opened the clock starts ticking. Vaccines are only usable for six to 12 hours, depending on the manufacturer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Moderna vaccines come in vials containing 11 to 15 doses. Pfizer vials contain up to six doses and Johnson & Johnson vials five doses.

“We are going to see more doses that go unused over time,” said Wisconsin’s health secretary, Karen Timberlake. “They come in multidose files. They don’t come in nice, tidy individual single-serving packages.”

State health officials said they have tried to request only what health care providers and pharmacies expect to need from the federal supply. Those numbers have dwindled since the vaccines became widely available in early spring.

But U.S. officials — holding out hope that some of the unvaccinated will change their minds — are trying to keep enough vaccines in stock so all Americans can get them.

That balancing act is tricky and can lead to consternation around the globe as the U.S. sits on unused vaccines while many countries in places such as Africa can’t get enough vaccines.

“Somebody sitting in a country with few resources to access vaccines, seeing people in the U.S. able to walk into a pharmacy and get that vaccine and choosing not to, I’m sure that’s causing heartache,” said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents the public health agencies of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, said officials anticipate that on-hand doses of COVID-19 vaccines and manufacturers’ ability to supply more will meet needs across the country.

“I think states have tried to plan as if everybody’s going to be offered a booster,” he said, suggesting they will be overprepared for the more narrow recommendations issued by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California, for example, estimated earlier this month that it would need to administer an extra 63 million doses by the end of 2022 — if initial shots for children under 12 were approved and boosters were open to everyone.

U.S. health officials late Thursday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older — along with tens of millions of younger people who are at higher risk from the coronavirus because of health conditions or their jobs.

California, with nearly 40 million residents, has the lowest transmission rate of any state and nearly 70% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. That leaves nearly 12 million people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, said the state will rely largely on pharmacies and primary care providers to give boosters to seniors while some large counties and health care groups will use mass vaccination sites.

In Pennsylvania, more than 67% of residents older than 18 are fully vaccinated. Alison Beam, acting secretary of health, said health authorities now have “two missions”: Continuing to persuade people to get vaccinated and serving those eager to receive a booster or initial shots.

“Pennsylvania is going to be prepared,” Beam said. “And we’re going to have the right level of vaccine and vaccinators to be able to meet that demand.”


Foody reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; and Patty Nieberg in Denver contributed.


Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Franklin County roundabout opens to traffic

Franklin County’s first roundabout on a state road opened to traffic on Saturday. Vehicles traveling along Virginia 122 south of Westlake are asked to pay attention to the new traffic pattern.

Construction began on the roundabout in May as an effort to improve safety at the intersection of Virginia 122 and Hardy Road, a key junction for traffic to and from Smith Mountain Lake. The intersection has been the site of multiple wrecks and at least one fatality in recent years.

The roundabout is the latest in several safety improvements to the intersection over the years including larger stop signs, reflective strips and rumble strips to warn drivers of the dangerous intersection. The Virginia Department of Transportation proposed a roundabout for the intersection in 2020.

According to VDOT, a roundabout reduces the number of points where vehicles can cross paths and minimizes the potential for right-angle and head-on crashes because all movements are right turns. The roundabout was seen as a safer alternative than a traffic light that was originally proposed for the intersection.

VDOT recently provided a news release with several tips to drivers expecting to use the roundabout. Tips include:

Pay attention to signs and pavement markings.

Yield to vehicles already in the circle as they approach from the left and merge when safe.

Navigate the circle at a slow, steady pace and do not stop once in the roundabout.

Use turn signals correctly to not confuse other drivers.

Be aware of the speed and position of nearby road users.

Road work is expected to continue at the intersection for the next few months as the project is completed. Motorists should continue to expect periodic daytime lane closures with flaggers controlling traffic. Additional paving and pavement marking on Virginia 122 and Virginia 636 will be scheduled in the months ahead.

Franklin County’s second roundabout will begin construction just a short distance away in the coming months. Work is expected to begin early next year on a roundabout at the intersection of Brooks Mill and Burnt Chimney roads.

Pelosi vows to pass infrastructure

WASHINGTON — With President Joe Biden’s broad domestic agenda at risk of collapse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday vowed that Democrats will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week and push ahead on the bigger $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change bill while acknowledging the total amount will drop.

Pelosi had originally pledged to House moderates a vote on the infrastructure legislation by Monday, but she now says that timeline will likely fall to later in the week due to Democratic divisions, giving space for negotiations so both bills could be approved. She is pushing to advance both this week, though that is not at all certain.

The $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed the Senate last month.

“Let me just say that we’re going to pass the bill this week,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes. You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time, and we will.”

When asked Sunday if Pelosi had the votes to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Monday, Biden told reporters at the White House, “It’s going to take the better part of this week.”

Still, in a delicate balancing act aimed at achieving the near Democratic unanimity needed to push the sprawling package through, Pelosi made clear that Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion for social spending and climate initiatives will need to be trimmed.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they won’t support a bill of that size. Manchin has previously proposed spending of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, an amount that progressives have called unacceptable for a bill they originally envisioned at $6 trillion.

Asked Sunday if she agrees the final number on the so-called reconciliation bill will be “somewhat smaller” than $3.5 trillion, Pelosi responded: “That seems self-evident.”

“We’ll see how the number comes down and what we need,” she added. “Again, the Senate and the House, those who are not in full agreement with the president, right, let’s see what our values — let’s not talk about numbers and dollars. Let’s talk about values.”

“I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president, and this is really transformative.”

Her comments Sunday reflected the enormous stakes for the coming week, one that could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year’s midterm elections.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats over the weekend that they “must” pass the social and environment package in the coming days, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the sense of urgency.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

Democrats have few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate if there is no Republican support to enact Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” agenda. Republicans are lockstep against the larger measure.

Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

The House Budget Committee on Saturday advanced a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs, though one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face. The bill, which is certain to be revised before House voting, would be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who led a group of House moderates in pushing a quick vote by Monday on the infrastructure bill, said Sunday he wouldn’t be bothered by a slight delay. He was optimistic both pieces of legislation could be resolved this week.

“If the vote — the way these things work, if you start debating it and it rolls over to Tuesday, ... I think we’re all reasonable people,” Gottheimer said. “There’s too much on the line here for our country.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said members of her group won’t be willing to support the infrastructure plan until there is “ironclad” agreement in the House and Senate on the reconciliation bill. She didn’t rule out additional cuts to the $3.5 trillion proposal to reach agreement.

“If somebody wants to take something out, we need to hear what that is,” she said.

Pelosi didn’t commit when asked about a vote this week on the social spending and climate bill, which Democrats intend to pass with a simple majority without GOP support. She suggested that House-Senate agreement could be reached this week, depending on rulings from the Senate parliamentarian on what provisions could be included.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals, with billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten to dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors.

But there are broad disputes on paying for the legislation as well as over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.

Pelosi spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Gottheimer was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Jayapal appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”