Capron school tops unfunded ‘wish list’

Published 8:42 am Friday, March 26, 2010

COURTLAND—A new elementary school, county jail and an expanded library are the three projects that top the “wish list” embodied in Southampton County’s capital improvements plan.

But considering the county’s current financial state, it may some time before any of those projects — or others on the list — come to fruition.

“The spending portion of the capital improvement plan is the easy part,” Beth Lewis, the county’s principal planner and secretary to the planning commission, told the Southampton County Board of Supervisors during Monday night’s public hearing on the plan. “The sources of the funding are not provided in this plan.”

The capital improvements plan, which spans a six-year period from fiscal 2010 through 2016, totals $29.56 million.

The county budget for the current fiscal year is $56.89 million. Although the county is still putting together its budget for fiscal 2011, Southampton faces a loss of more than $1 million in local revenue, unavoidable expenditures totaling $725,000, and $2.5 million in state revenue cuts, including $2.3 million less for K-12 education.

“In tight budget times there may be little to no money to spend on any of these requests,” Lewis said. “But that just pushes everything back until such time that funds may be available.”

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson indicated that projects on the capital improvements plan wouldn’t be funded soon.

“I can tell you unequivocally that I don’t think there’s going to be any funding in the fiscal year 2011 (budget) for any of these capital projects,” Johnson said Thursday.

New Capron Elementary

The construction of a new Capron Elementary School, at a cost of $10.5 million, tops the capital improvement plan. The new school would house 350 students and replace the current building, which was built in 1954 and is the oldest school building in operation in the Southampton County Public Schools division.

According to the planning commission, about $350,000 of the $10 million for a new school would be spent on land acquisition. The school’s current site on Route 58 just east of Capron was described as “unsuitable” and “too small” for a new school. The commission said there are water and sewer issues at the current site, and the front entrance is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In January, Capron Elementary reported having 204 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, and each grade had two teachers. An additional 18 pre-kindergarten students from the Capron area are transported to Riverdale Elementary School near Franklin. A new Capron Elementary would be able to accommodate the pre-K students.

Despite the old building, Capron Elementary has made Adequate Yearly Progress with the state every year since 2004 and is the only school in the division to do so. The school also regularly passes the state Standards of Learning exams, earning 83 and 88 in English and math, respectively, during the 2009-10 school year.

Capron Elementary is “strong academically,” the commission said, with “some of the highest SOLs” in the division.

The planning commission did not indicate where a new Capron Elementary would be constructed, but it said one possible source of funding for the building would be from a low-interest Literary Fund of Virginia loan.

New county jail

Second on the capital improvements plan is the construction of a new county jail, estimated to cost about $4.6 million.

“The present jail was built in 1950 and does not meet present standards,” the commission said in its report. “Many efforts have been done and will continue to be done to mitigate issues raised by the (state) Board of Corrections. Planning for this issue needs to begin prior to increased demands from the state.”

The planning commission said reimbursement from the General Assembly could provide a source of funding for the new jail.

Expanded, renovated library

The third project listed on the capital improvements plan is the expansion and renovation of the Walter Cecil Rawls Library in Courtland, which could cost more than $3.1 million. The facility, located at 22511 Main St., is part of the Blackwater Regional Library system.

“A building expansion of 8,131 square feet is needed to meet the current population,” the planning commission said. Asbestos abatement, parking, lighting, flooring, fire suppression, security, visibility and ADA accessibility issues also needed to be resolved at the library, the commission reported.

Not everyone pleased

Although the Board of Supervisors ultimately approved the capital improvements list, not everyone in the audience was happy with it.

“There’s only one project that we must start on,” Glenn Updike of Statesville said. “We’ve got to do something about (the Southeastern Public Service Authority). We’ve got to do something by 2018. We cannot sit on our hands. The rest of this capital improvement project can be put off for the next five years and it won’t hurt one iota. But SPSA (and) trash is something that we’ve got to start with now. You all can not sweep it under the rug.”

Lewis said the plan isn’t perfect but serves a purpose.

“It let’s citizens know where the county is going in the near and not-so-near distant future,” Lewis said. “It seeks their input to try and refine those goals and identify areas of the county that the citizens may see we need to work (on).”

She added, “It’s not set in stone. It’s a living document, but it does lay out a plan.”