Board Pressing For Simms Revamp
$2M Project Would Return Building To Original Role
Posted: December 6, 2012
HARRISONBURG — With a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Harrisonburg City School Board cemented plans to pursue an approximately $2 million renovation project at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center.
Nearly 12 years ago, the board took an opposite position, declaring the Simms building, which the division owned at the time, surplus property.
But now the board believes the building will be a good home for most of the division’s prekindergarten programs, now held in elementary schools.
“[Moving into Simms would] allow us to have 200 more students at elementary schools,” Superintendent Scott Kizner said Tuesday.
Still, Kizner also pointed out that the move will not address Harrisonburg City Schools’ ever-growing elementary school enrollment beyond 2016.
At the beginning of November, the board voted to officially pursue renovating the Simms building, now owned by the city. Tuesday’s vote will give Kizner permission to put the proposal on paper and formally ask Harrisonburg City Council to fund it, he explained.
“We can’t go out to bid without that agreement,” he said.
The decision is one of several that are expected to be made to accommodate rapid enrollment growth.
Considerable population growth in recent years — 168 students in kindergarten through 12th grade have joined the division between Oct. 31, 2011, and the same date this year — has created a real space jam.
Some schools already are considered over effective capacity and practically all others are now headed in that direction or will be in the next several years.
Historically, enrollment in the division has hovered around 10 percent of the city’s population, Kizner said. So, if the latest figures from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service are correct — that the city’s population will bubble up to 57,114 residents by 2020 — then a 5,700-student population is in the division’s future.
“That’s 800 students more than today,” Kizner said. “It is not that far away.”
The request to City Council regarding Simms will be made by January or February. The School Board has its eye on completing the work by July 2014.
While the construction would create 10 classrooms for prekindergarten programs, it also would displace the offices of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“We are in full support of the community and right now a bigger issue is where do they put all these children,” said Bill Carter, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Carter said he was not at liberty to discuss a tentative new location for his organization’s office, but said programs will likely be hosted in city schools. Today, some satellite clubs operate in Rockingham County, such as at South River Elementary in Grottoes.
“[We have] to sit down and figure out all the logistics to figure out where we would be best suited to serve those children,” Carter said. “It is our full intention to not cut services.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs and Parks and Recreation offices, along with The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, are the most recent organizations to take up residence in the one-time Simms School, erected in the 1930s. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register.
The city school division continued to use portions of the building after it closed as an all-black school in 1964 following desegregation.
But in 2001, the division declared the site surplus property and returned it to the city. That was at the same time the division was studying long-term construction options.
Although some residents at that time said the building would make a good fifth elementary school, some board members argued it was too small and too close to existing elementary schools to make sense as a new elementary.
A $5.5 million renovation and expansion project was completed on the new education center in 2005.
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org