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Watch Now: Town halls held on Amherst high school addition project, envisioned concepts
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Watch Now: Town halls held on Amherst high school addition project, envisioned concepts

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Images showed a new Amherst County High School auditorium, much larger and more state of the art than the current one, as well as a food court with large open windows and a new expanded look to the high school.

As Josh Bower, architect with a Charlottesville firm working on the addition project with Amherst County Public Schools, flipped through the slides during a Nov. 4 town hall meeting at Monelison Middle School, he invited attendees to mark what they liked and didn’t like in a variety of concept images.

School officials spent that night and the previous evening gathering public input to guide their decisions as they aim to bring the major addition project, the largest construction endeavor the division will embark on in the past two decades, from the presentation into reality.

“One of our goals is to refine this based on community input,” said Bower of the project’s direction. “We’re just getting started.”

The addition project is planned in phases with the “1a” consisting of a new 1,400-seat auditorium that is envisioned to be constructed adjacent to the school’s two gyms where the driver’s education course has been located. A new parking area would be needed on land the division owns adjacent to its parking lot at Lancer Stadium and a newly built hallway commons area would connect the auditorium with the two gyms, according to concepts shared at the town hall meetings.

Bower said the current main gym’s lobby is small and a challenge for athletic events. The new space would add features such as a hall of fame wing and more bathroom space, he said.

Phase “1b” consists of a renovation of the kitchen, a new food court and converting the current dining room into educational space. The new dining area brings more flexibility and a much more enhanced experience for students and teachers during breakfast and lunch, Bower said.

Phase 2 includes converting the existing auditorium near the front entrance of the school into educational space and renovation of career and technical educational (CTE) labs. Bower said the job market has a major need for more masons, electricians, plumbers and other high-paying professions that do not require a college degree.

“There has been a new movement to enhance CTE,” said Bower. “College is not for everybody.”

Phase 3 would include upgrades to Lancer Stadium to make it more handicapped accessible and a new field house next to the baseball field, which Bower said would bring a better experience for student athletes and spectators.

Exact cost estimates for the major construction project wasn’t shared during the Nov. 4 town hall, but ACPS Superintendent Rob Arnold recently indicated to the Amherst County Board of Supervisors all work combined could tally as high as $19 million because of higher cost of construction materials.

He said the auditorium replacement has been talked about for many years and the division has a chance to make it happen with more than $5 million from the American Rescue Plan, a federal stimulus in response to the pandemic’s effects, slated to go toward it.

“We have wonderful fine arts programs,” Arnold said. “The current auditorium just doesn’t fit their needs. It’s been something that Amherst County has been asking for and believing they needed for more than 30 years… our auditorium can really use a facelift for sure.”

Bower said the project is being approached one step at a time and residents’ ideas are helpful. “We’re in master plan land,” he said of the current state of concepts.

Fielding a resident’s question about the timeline, Bower said his preference is for the two parts of the first phase to be done together but noted the limit on dollar figures. The phased approach allows the division to proceed as money is made available, he said.

Arnold said the dining improvements should be done in the summer and at times when students are not in school. “We’re hoping it will be a minimal amount of disruption,” Bower said.

Amherst County High School Principal Derrick Brown said students and staff are excited about benefits an addition would bring. He said it would enhance the school’s ability to conduct assemblies and the talented programs in the performing arts are severely limited.

“The space we have doesn’t mesh with the caliber of programs we have here,” Brown said.

Arnold said the addition not only is great for the high school but for the entire Amherst community because the county doesn’t have large indoor spaces.

“We can have lots of events in there and we can get our community to be involved more in our schools,” Arnold said.

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