Southampton County Public Schools nets $5M construction assistance grant

Published 2:07 pm Monday, August 7, 2023

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Southampton County Public Schools was one of 28 school divisions in the state to be awarded a School Construction Assistance Program Grant from the Virginia Department of Education.

Gwendolyn P. Shannon

“As the superintendent and on behalf of Southampton County Public Schools, I was overjoyed upon the announcement of securing the School Construction Assistance Program Grant amounting to $5,550,000,” SCPS Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon said. “This tremendous achievement reiterates our unyielding commitment to providing high-quality educational facilities to our students. 

“While we hope to construct a new elementary school in the Capron area, we remain adaptable and will coordinate closely with VDOE and our local school board to revise the grant’s purpose if required,” she continued. 

Shannon made a point to recognize SCPS Chief Operations Officer Will Melbye, noting that his “diligence and dedication led to successfully submitting and approving the grant application.”

She said the school division is actively collaborating with Southampton County Administrator Brian Thrower to devise an optimal strategy for moving forward.

Melbye shared his reaction to SCPS receiving the grant, news which reached the school division June 28 via email.

“I was taken aback and absolutely thrilled to receive the email announcing the award,” he said. “$5.55 million will make a significant impact in this project, which is an immense opportunity for the county. We have the chance to build a collaborative project that is sure to be the jewel of the region and a source of great pride for Capron and the entire Southampton community. This new school will be able to set the standard for educational experiences and excellence for the next generation of students of Southampton County. 

“We are really excited and looking forward to working with Mr. Thrower and getting this project up off the ground in the coming months,” he added.

Shannon publicly announced the grant award at the Southampton County School Board’s July 10 meeting, during which she noted some of the ways the grant money can and cannot be used, according to the VDOE’s guidelines for the School Construction Assistance Program.

“It can be used for planning, architectural and engineering design, site acquisition, construction phase costs involving the core building structure and related site work, but not including most financing costs,” she said.

The VDOE website — — elaborates by noting that financing costs include closing costs, legal counsel and financial adviser costs, and annual debt service for principal and interest payments that has already begun to be paid.

The items Shannon listed as project costs for which the grant money can be used are examples of what the VDOE guidelines call “reasonable and allowable project construction costs.”

Expanding on what these costs do not include, the VDOE website also lists “outdoor facilities predominantly used for extracurricular athletic activities, loose equipment and furniture. 

“However, the principal-only portion of future debt service payments not yet begun on school projects where construction is pending or just begun is an allowable project cost with grant funding when the school division can document that other allowable project costs were incurred during the construction phase in an amount at least equal to the amount of grant funds that would be applied towards future principal-only payments for the project,” the website added.

Deborah Goodwyn

Shannon said, “Basically, we’re just going to work with the state Department of Education to ensure that we utilize the funding according to their guidelines.”

Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn said at the July 10 meeting that the board would have further discussion in the future with Shannon about how to use the funds.

“But as we are aware, the county does not provide any kind of recreational facilities for children,” Goodwyn said. “So there are no recreational, leisure-time facilities in the county, so we’ll think about that, and we’ll think about the needs of the students, the needs of the community and come together with a project that will be beneficial for the community. So we’ll have more meetings and more planning.”

In a Monday, July 31, interview, Shannon said, “We are currently in the nascent stages of discussions about utilizing the grant funds. The board and I are diligently working on charting out the most beneficial and efficient ways of leveraging the grant to benefit our students.”