Despite outcries from pockets of the Campbell County community and beyond, plans for a new Rustburg Middle School are moving on as scheduled, with demolition of the entire existing building, including the original 1919 structure, still included.
Blair Construction, the Gretna-based firm selected to spearhead the new middle school project, unveiled its proposed plan to Campbell County supervisors and school board members Tuesday night.
Blair’s proposal includes the full demolition of the current middle school, a requirement of the request for proposals issued by Campbell County.
The new structure would sit just behind the footprint of the existing building, with a parking lot and ball fields dominating the space where the middle school now stands.
Proposed to hold 750 students, with the capacity to expand to fit 900, the 136,500-square-foot structure has a price tag of about $41 million.
Following Blair’s Tuesday night presentation, school board members, supervisors and county residents had the opportunity to ask questions — many of which centered around safety and day-to-day operations.
Included in the plan is a road connecting Rocky Road and Carden Lane, hoping to address traffic congestion that often plagues school zones and bus drop-offs.
With a classic brick exterior to meet the tone of the Rustburg village, vaulted windows and communal learning spaces, Ben Motley, architect and senior partner at RRMM Architects, who is partnering with Blair Construction on the project, said the proposed project is a “21st-century education environment.”
“Instead of just providing traditional classrooms, [we are] providing the types of spaces that allow project-based learning, students to work in groups, and a variety of different things that really is very helpful for the middle school environment,” Motley said.
Move-in is slated for summer 2022, with final site work completed that fall.
The existing school would be evacuated and torn down in the summer of 2022, although the earliest demolition — the school’s agriculture shop, which just barely overlaps with the new build — could happen as soon as March.
The planned demolition of the original school has brought out some opposition.
Wayne Bailey, a Rustburg High School graduate of the Class of 1969, flew into the Lynchburg Regional Airport from Texas on Monday for one night only. It’s a trip he has made several times in the past few months, hoping to make his case to save the 100-year-old building.
“We feel the process has been a convoluted one. We feel it’s a process that they are moving forward [with] without paying any attention to the desires of their constituents,” Bailey said.
He called it small-town politics at its worst. Bailey and other Rustburg High School alum have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to save the old Rustburg school building, which is currently a part of the Rustburg Middle School, and which served as the high school until around 1980.
Bailey and other alum spoke at the school board meeting on Monday night, and joining them was Rustburg District Supervisor Jon Hardie, who encouraged the board to utilize the “historic 1919 building” and said it could still serve the county as a standalone structure.
“I urge you not to be comfortable with the thought of tearing down what has meant so much to so many,” Hardie said. “This building is one of our few local treasures.”
The structure is one of the oldest buildings in the county still standing, and was opened during the 1919 school year as a six-room structure to replace the wooden school constructed in 1893. About a dozen people lobbied for the preservation at the most recent supervisors meeting.
In spite of these pleas, the school board did not change the course of its intended plans. Last month, the joint committee leading the project — consisting of school board members and county supervisors — reviewed the five proposal finalists from the contractors who responded to the request for proposals, and selected Blair Construction to lead the project.
Superintendent Bobby Johnson challenged the accusation that the board has not been receptive to citizen feedback during the planning process. The replacement of Campbell County secondary schools has long been a county priority, and he said it has been no secret that full replacement of the school has been at the top of the list for years.
An initial study of the county’s public school facilities was conducted in 2009.
The assessment identified Rustburg Middle School as the No. 1 priority, and though the original recommendation was to consolidate secondary schools into East and West campuses, that consolidation plan was shot down by the board of supervisors in 2015. Although the county hasn’t seen a new secondary school constructed in 40 years, it completed an extensive renovation and expansion of Concord Elementary in 2009.
Following the rejection of consolidation, the assessment recommended that if the county had to remodel the school, it should do a full replacement of the facility.
In June 2019, the school board unanimously decided the complete replacement of Rustburg Middle School would be the school division’s top priority for its capital improvement plan.
“This process that we are going through now is a pretty aggressive timeline, but as you can see, it wasn’t done overnight, it was done over 10 years,” Johnson said.
Bailey and others advocating for the structure’s survival have made the point that the historic nature of the building could afford the county tax credits to rehab the school. Ideally, Bailey would like to see the building integrated into the new plans.
Johnson said the county had conferred with Davenport & Company, its financial advisors, to review the financial impact of pursuing tax credits. He said the building was not eligible for federal historic tax credits, only state historic tax credits, and that retaining the original 1919 structure would add about $5 million to the project. The tax credits would have the potential to save about $1.25 million of that additional cost.
“It appears that no material financial benefit would be served and more likely the county would incur additional costs if it pursued this option,” Johnson said.
Sunburst Election District Supervisor Steve Shockley, who is part of the joint committee leading the project and helped select Blair Construction for the job, said though it would be nice to save the old structure, it was not a feasible economic decision. Even maintaining it as a standalone structure would be costly, he said, and there was not a clear plan for how the building would be utilized.
Shockley said he is very excited about the plans for the new school, and that Blair had met all of the committee’s needs, down to price and timeline.
“I’m very excited for the kids. I think they are going to walk into that school and want to learn,” Shockley said. “It’s open and inviting, and I believe it is going to be the wave of the future.”
Dottie Richardson, a Rustburg High School graduate of the Class of 1969 who was present at both meetings, wasn’t too impressed. She said the decision to tear down the original “brick and mortar” 1919 building sends a harmful message to students.
“You tear down this kind of stuff, nobody has no use for this town anymore,” she said. “It’s gone.”
Like many of the alumni, she was heartbroken about the decision to move ahead with demolition.
“I can’t say I’m shocked,” Bailey said after the Monday night school board meeting. “If they would have communicated with us, it would have made a huge difference. We don’t feel like they followed the process correctly.”
Despite everything, and a ticket booked on a flight back down to Texas on Tuesday, Bailey said the fight isn’t over.
“Far as I’m concerned, the fight is not over until the wrecking ball swings,” he said. “And they might have to dodge some people when that happens.”
The next step for the project will happen Oct. 6, when supervisors meet to consider the comprehensive agreement with the firm.
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