IOW receives $7.5M interest-free loan for new Windsor Middle School

Published 11:08 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

RICHMOND—Isle of Wight County has received a $7.5 million interest-free loan to build a new Windsor Middle School. The amount is half of what the school district hoped to get.

No one from Isle of Wight County Schools returned a phone call this morning.

Kenneth Bunch with IOW County Board of Supervisors, who in November authorized applying for a $15 million loan, said Thursday it would be hard to turn down $7.5 million.

“Unfortunately that means the remainder of the money, the county would have to come up with,” said Bunch, who represents the Carrsville District. “With that being said, I think it should be very strongly looked at. That school needed to be replaced even if we didn’t get the interest-free loan.”

School officials say a replacement school is necessary because of issues in the 61-year-old building with harmful substances, including lead and asbestos, and substandard and crowded facilities.

Renovating the current building to accommodate 550 students would cost $22 million, according to a committee that studied both options for the Isle of Wight County School Board. A new building is expected to cost $23 million.

Smithfield District Supervisor Al Casteen, who in December voted against authorizing the school district to apply for the loan, believes a thorough analysis and review of the school district’s needs for the next few years should be done first.

“My concern about pursuing financing for the school is we are putting the cart before the horse,” Casteen said. “We just got Census information, and it shows we added 487 students in 10 years. That’s not much growth.”

“With that low student growth, and in light of IP (International Paper mill in Franklin) closing, I know people have to be relocating out of the county,” he continued.

Casteen noted if a number of people relocate, it would not be a good time to take on “unnecessary debt.”

“I fully support education, but we’re not in the mode right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight year. This will be our first year without IP.”

The county received about $6 million from the paper mill, which closed in June, eliminating 1,100 jobs.

Windsor District Supervisor Tom Wright said the board would have to look at the regulations and how to come up with the rest of the funding.

Isle of Wight was among 33 school districts to receive a total of $229 million in no-interest loans for 41 construction projects, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

The application process gave priority to consolidation projects and projects eliminating overcrowding, in economically stressed localities and replacing facilities that are more than 35 years old.