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MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Montgomery boards discuss CHS; supervisors to talk funding request

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CHS rendering

A rendering of the Christiansburg High School renovation project.

Montgomery County school officials are asking the locality for $5 million to take the next step on the long-awaited plan to renovate and expand Christiansburg High School.

The request was voiced last week during a joint meeting of the county School Board and Board of Supervisors, the latter of which must approve the debt needed for school construction projects.

The $5 million would cover the cost of putting together the design plans for the CHS project and submitting them to the town of Christiansburg for eventual approval, said school Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tommy Kranz. The district would like to complete that step by next summer, he said.

The entire CHS project, which district officials hope to complete by 2024, is somewhat beholden to a certain timeline due to its overall cost and the fact MCPS plans to use some federal pandemic funds on the work. The pandemic funds—$10 million district officials plan to use for the high school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system—have to be spent by the second half of 2024 and their exact use will require additional approval from the Virginia Department of Education, MCPS officials have said.

Supervisors are set to discuss the $5 million request Monday night. They also must eventually decide exactly how much debt they want to take on for the entire CHS project, which was most recently estimated to cost just over $100 million.

Supervisors have held discussions over the past few weeks on various debt issuance possibilities. One of the challenges facing the county is the fact that going with the higher debt possibilities for CHS—and therefore a bigger and more ideal project—would place tighter restraints on the locality’s ability to take on debt for other projects over the next several years.

Montgomery County most recently reached its debt capacity—and was therefore unable to borrow for a few years—following the completion of a number of high school construction projects in the early 2010s.

Another challenge district officials touched on during the recent talk with supervisors is the rise of other infrastructural needs in the district, particularly in the Blacksburg strand of schools.

Blacksburg Middle School, for example, needs roof work, which could cost as much as $2 million, Kranz said.

“The majority of our schools are over 50 years of age,” he said.

However, some school board members stressed the need to immediately address the issues in the Christiansburg strand, which has long been plagued with overcrowding.

The need to address the Christiansburg strand was identified roughly two decades ago, but the issues in that community were put on hold due in part to external factors such as the recession of the late 2000s and the 2010 collapse of the old Blacksburg High School’s gym roof, said school board member Penny Franklin.

“I don’t see any of this as extravagant,” Franklin said in reference to some of the proposed additions for CHS. “Christiansburg has waited, waited and waited. It’s Christiansburg’s time.”

School board members Dana Partin and Jamie Bond echoed some of Franklin’s comments on the Christiansburg strand. Each of the districts they represent includes parts of Christiansburg.

Franklin said the quality of the public education system also plays a key role in drawing people to Montgomery County and ultimately economic development, neither of which she said is solely due to Virginia Tech.

“We have to think about the future of this county,” she said.

One of the proposed additions for CHS is a facility that would include the equivalent of three basketball courts and an indoor track.

The indoor track in particular would make it easier to bring tournaments to the area and would therefore be an economic driver, said Superintendent Mark Miear.

Montgomery County Supervisor Mary Biggs, a former teacher, spoke on the widely held view that the state has insufficiently funded public education over the years. She said the county might need to re-explore the possibilities of raising taxes in the future to get around the state funding hurdle and to more adequately address the issues in the local school division.

“No one wants to talk about that,” she said. But “you’re going to have to educate citizens on what it’s going to take.”

The suggestion of potential tax increases, at least in the immediate future, was quickly shot down by some of Biggs’ fellow supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Fijalkowski said he’s not in favor of any tax increases this year. He, however, said the county can still expect to draw more revenue from taxes in the near future due to its upcoming quadrennial reassessment of properties across the locality.

Supervisor Sara Bohn said she doesn’t see a need to raise taxes in the near future and voiced confidence in the county’s economic growth, which she added will lead to more revenue and help provide the funding needed for other needs in the school district. She said the option of raising taxes, if necessary, will still exist in the future.

The recent meeting between supervisors and school board members involved another overview of the CHS project.

The project, among other significant changes, would bring a glass exterior to much of the school’s front, according to conceptual renderings. That improvement is expected to help address long-standing daylighting issues at the school and make the entrance much more visible.

CHS has a current enrollment of nearly 1,100 students, but a capacity of 800. The project calls for a doubling of the high school’s capacity.

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