Harrisonburg City School Board hears reopening plans for high school students in the fall, new high school

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 4:02 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Harrisonburg City Public School (HCPS) Board members had a busy agenda on Tuesday evening, which included discussion of reopening plans for high school students next fall.

All kindergarten through eighth-grade students in the city can meet in person four days a week, but the high school is lagging behind because it is overcrowded by about 600 students.

Division Superintendent Michael Richards said the plan is to fully reopen the high school in the fall. In order to do that, they plan to add two 4,300-square foot temporary buildings in the high school parking lot.

“It’s not a great solution. I mean nobody wants to sustain this with 16 mobile units, or trailers as some people call them, and then two large temporary buildings. I have to admit, it’s a bad situation, but we are going to make the best of it,” Richards said.

The goal of the buildings is to tackle overcrowding in the school’s common areas, like the cafeteria. This campus addition comes with a big price tag, but school leaders said it still remains in the school’s budget and will be useful in the years to come.

Craig Mackail, the Executive Director of Operations and School Safety, said it will cost about $200,000 to install both temporary buildings and it will cost about $8,700 per month to rent both units. The school division signed a five-year contract for the two temporary buildings.

“It takes months to put this together so we’re moving forward with this and if the CDC lifts those restrictions and the governor lifts indoor mask orders, and all that, we still need the space,” Richards said.

He added that they are still finalizing what to do about the lost parking spaces due to bringing the temporary buildings on campus.

Richards said he predicts most students plan to return in person in the fall, especially with more vaccines rolling out.

Another big topic on Tuesday evening was the future of construction at Harrisonburg’s second high school, commonly referred to as HHS2. The project was put on hold in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Richards explained to board members that construction costs during the one-year delay have increased by $7 million, or nearly 7 percent of the total cost of the project. He said costs are projected to continue to increase and borrowing costs are at historic lows.

HCPS has been allocated $11.8 million in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and 80 percent, or about $9.5 million, of those funds can offset local costs that can be used to restart construction of HHS2 over the next 3 years.

HCPS is anticipating returning at least $2 million at the end of the current fiscal year 2021 that can be used to resume the construction of HHS2.

Richards said this $11.5 million can be used to restart the project while Harrisonburg City Council further deliberates on benchmarks related to raising taxes for city residents.

Also on Tuesday night board members approved bonus payments for HCPS staff. Board members said after the past year, teachers and faculty are more than deserving of a bonus.

Full-time HCPS employees will receive a $2,000 bonus payment. Part-time HCPS employees and temporary service employees who have worked at least 50 percent of the time during the school year would receive a $1,000 bonus payment. Bonus payments would be processed in the June 2021 payroll.

You can view the May 4 Harrisonburg City School Board agenda here.

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