Watch Now: Amherst Supervisors Approve $19.4 Million in Funding for High School Addition and Renovation | Latest titles

A proposed addition and renovation to Amherst County High School has received financial support from the County Board of Supervisors, paving the way for the facility’s largest construction project in more than 20 years.

On January 18, the board agreed to fund $19.4 million for a phased renovation with a new auditorium, renovated cafeteria and food court, conversion of existing dining space to business uses and Technical Educational Facilities (CTE), upgrades to make Lancer Stadium Americans With Disabilities Act compliant, adding a field next to the baseball and softball diamonds, and additional parking.

The Amherst County School Board said it would contribute $8 million to the $19 million project through a combination of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act and funding from the School Improvement Plan. school division capital assets. Supervisors are also funding the project by restructuring the county’s overall debt.

Derrick Brown, the high school principal, said the project will mark the most significant work since the renovation of the science wing in the early to mid-1990s.

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“I’m thrilled,” Brown said. “It’s a long time coming. It’s something that’s really needed. Our theater program, our fine arts, our orchestra, our choir program, they just have top-notch performers and the students have such talent. And to be able to put them in a world-class facility that will be able to facilitate and host events that showcase their talent is really exciting, not just for me but for the county. a county establishment.

Brown said the new auditorium, which is planned for the back of the school next to the two gymnasiums, will significantly increase seating capacity and improve the overall auditorium experience with much more space to bring the community together. at events. A new corridor will connect the new auditorium and the gymnasiums.

The cafeteria will be much improved with a food court. The entrance to the back of the school will be redone and the work will free up space to provide more offerings for CTE programs, according to school officials.

A rear school entrance that will be part of upcoming renovations to Amherst County High School, shown Thursday.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

Supervisors considered two scenarios: fund $13.8 million for the auditorium addition and cafeteria renovation with the remaining work to come in the coming years, or fund the entire work at 19, $1 million. The council decided to take advantage of low interest rates to borrow money and restructure its debt while adding $300,000 for parking needs.

Supervisor Tom Martin said the council should provide additional parking and the $300,000 could be set aside if needed. The new auditorium will take up the majority of the current parking area at the rear of the school, so the addition of parking will be a factor in the project.

“That’s one of my biggest concerns is that we’re doing all of this and we don’t have this parking area,” Martin said. “I think we would be wrong if we were going to do this whole project and not think about redoing this parking lot.”

Superintendent Rob Arnold said he was confident the division and county could resolve the parking issues in future discussions. He thanked the supervisors for their financial support for the project.

“I am very happy and excited that they, like us, see the benefits of this project for our community,” said Arnold. “We’ve always said it’s not just about the school, it’s about the Amherst community and having a space where our whole community can come together. I just want to congratulate the Supervisory Board for taking this big step.

Arnold said the Amherst County School Board understands the funding limitations and ordered it to present the first two phases at $13.8 million to supervisors, but with the rates they are at, it made financial sense. to move forward with the whole project.

The addition and renovation will better serve theater arts, fine arts and related students and CTE opportunities by making them better “ready for life” citizens, he said. .

“It’s all about opportunity,” Arnold said. “It will really open up space in the rest of our building.”

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The weld room bays at Amherst County High School on Thursday.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

At the January 18 meeting, Assistant Superintendent William Wells explained how the CTE offerings will improve with additional space, including more bays for welding, among other upgrades. More space means more students can take advantage of these offerings, which school and county officials believe are critical to preparing many students for life after high school and the local workforce.

“…I said at the beginning of this to many school board members that if we haven’t resolved for CTE and vocational training, I will not support this,” supervisor Claudia Tucker said. “It’s important to me to take care of these children.”

County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the county’s borrowing capacity is healthy and it can afford to borrow without debt service being severely hit.

“I was surprised that we could take on so much debt without raising taxes, basically,” said David Pugh, chairman of the board. “With the way inflation is going… I guess it would probably be safe to pull out the $19 million and do the project while the money is cheaper. It pains me to do this, but it’s probably the smart thing and the right thing to do.

Rodgers said that with the county paying down its debt, it has more ability to borrow money.

“Rates are at historic lows right now,” Rodgers said. “Moving forward, we’ll borrow money while it’s cheap, and if it goes up, we’ll have grabbed low-cost money for the high school project. As rates fell, we refinanced our higher cost debt to obtain a lower interest rate. We do it regularly.

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The Amherst County High School cafeteria on Thursday, January 20, 2022.

Photo by Kendall Warner, The News & Advance

Rates can’t go down, Rodgers said, so supervisors are taking advantage as long as the opportunity is available.

“We need to get as much as possible right now without any cost to the taxpayer,” Rodgers said. “It’s very useful.”

Patricia Emmert, a teacher in the high school drama program, recently spoke to supervisors about how important the addition of the auditorium is for students.

“I cannot explain how this will affect all students in Amherst County,” Emmert said following the county’s decision. “I know their stage, figuratively and literally, just got bigger and brighter and it will give the community a chance to see all the talent that lies within the ACHS.”

She added that at some point she plans to do the alumni right and invite them back as alumni to perform on the new, expanded stage “so they can see how all their hard work and their talents over the years have not gone unnoticed.”

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