By LAINE GRIFFIN
Daily News-Record 10/2/19
HARRISONBURG — After a back and forth discussion Tuesday, the Harrisonburg City School Board approved the final design proposal for a second Harrisonburg high school, which will include a sports stadium but not a canopy-covered walkway.
Board member Andy Kohen made a motion to amend the design to cut the stadium, which was supported by Nick Swayne and Kaylene Seigle.
Chairwoman Deb Fitzgerald and board members Kristen Loflin and Obie Hill were opposed to eliminating the stadium.
In the event of a tie vote, the motion dies.
The most recent cost estimate for the new school was $85.6 million, though the final price tag depends on what the board — and City Council — ultimately decides to build and other factors to be determined over the next month.
The stadium is expected to cost around $5 million and will feature a turf field used for football, soccer and track.
“The saving of the $5 million is an important dimension of the overall project we’re taking and asking to have constructed,” Kohen said during discussion leading up to the vote.
If the stadium is not built, officials have said, athletes at the new high school could use the facilities at Harrisonburg High School.
Loflin said she has heard concerns about scheduling at the existing athletic fields and how it would be a challenge to get the athletes where they need to be.
“I’ve heard very strongly from our community concerns regarding equity and the idea of sharing a field would be a challenge when it comes to one school having home field advantage on a regular basis,” she said.
Kohen said each team would have home field advantage at the existing facility.
“Yeah, there will be logistics when transferring students and equipment, but that can be overcome,” he said, adding that he is confident in the abilities of employees to arrange having two teams use the same field.
Hill agreed with Kohen on the price being expensive and agreed with Loflin’s point of wanting each school to have a different identity, which includes allowing the athletes of the second high school to have their own field.
“We have to remain focused on the ultimate goal, which is the future and future of the students,”
Hill said. “For some students, they aren’t the best students academically, but are very gifted physically.”
Swayne said the School Board’s fundamental responsibility is academics.
“There’s plenty of room on the grounds of the new facility that we can, if this community decides a stadium is a necessity in the future, we can make that decision in the future,” he said. “I think we can get by without the stadium and when the community decides it’s time to add the stadium, we can do that.”
Fitzgerald said that two weeks ago, she was not in favor of keeping the stadium as part of the design plans, but then changed her mind.
“I think that if we can do it, we should,” she said.
The new stadium will be smaller than the one at Harrisonburg High School and will have a turf field, allowing football, soccer and track to be used by boys and girls teams. Harrisonburg High School has a separate stadium for soccer. Following the vote for the stadium, the board unanimously voted to amend the design to take out the canopy, which was estimated at around $237,000. The canopy would cover the walkway from the bus drop- off area to the side door of the school where students would enter.
With the votes complete, Nielsen Builders Inc. and Grim and Parker Architects will finish the final design with maximum estimated cost before bringing it back to the School Board on Nov. 5.
At the Nov. 5 meeting, the School Board will be expected to vote for the last time on the final design and maximum guaranteed price for the school to open in 2022.
Following the meeting, Fitzgerald said in an interview that if the board is given a guaranteed maximum price it doesn’t like, officials will have to go back and identify other cuts to make to the design.
But Fitzgerald isn’t worried about that happening.
“We are pretty sure what it’ll end up being,” she said, although she would not disclose what she believes the number will be. “We have seen the preliminary estimate, council has seen it, so I don’t think it will be any big surprise to any of us,” she said.
Once the School Board votes for the final time, division Superintendent Michael Richards will take the design and total maximum cost to City Council at its Nov. 12 meeting, with the open date set for 2022.
If council approves, the city will break ground in November or December of this year.