HHS Overcrowding

Harrisonburg High School students eat lunch in April 2018. The division had to expand the number of lunch periods to account for overcrowding.

Harrisonburg city leaders are working to solve the complex problem of Harrisonburg High School overcrowding. The School Board, working with limits set by a previous City Council, is proposing that a second high school open for the 2022-23 school year (Plan A). The City Council vote is anticipated on Dec. 10, after a public hearing.

School Board, staff, volunteers, and architects have diligently worked to design the minimum viable two-school solution that maintains our high educational standards. To accommodate cost concerns, School Board cut solar panels and other features, and even tepidly offered delaying new athletic fields (Plan B). Unfortunately, neither plan addresses the overcrowding problem for at least two years (one challenge is no nearby space for temporary trailers).

Plan A is the best option heretofore — but it might not be approved. It was already delayed once due to cost, and is now predictably more expensive. The city manager says we cannot afford it, even before considering the additional operational costs of a second high school. Many are willing to pay more taxes, while others think it’s too much more too fast.

What can we do if Plans A and B fail? Can this City Council offer a new solution that previous councils did not? Consider that previous councils only entertained expanding HHS with an annex too small for a long-term single high school solution, which is partly why a second school is being pursued. This City Council, though, can make a new offer: 205 acres of public land virtually across the street from the current high school.

Heritage Oaks Golf Course was a dream for a 1990s City Council, which promised it could turn a city forest into a million-dollar moneymaker. In 2000, skeptical city voters elected a transpartisan three-person ticket to stop golf course construction. However, despite public sentiment, the ousted officials committed to build it. One newly elected candidate decided continuing the construction was “the only cost-effective option.” Heritage Oaks opened in 2001 and has cost over $20 million (a $556,000 operational loss is budgeted for 2020).

Today’s City Council may be ready and able to stop this losing golf course operation — and make the school system the winner. Regardless if Plan A in 2022 passes, council should close the course and offer land and parking to assist now with overcrowding.

If council rejects Plan A in 2022, city leaders can consider Plan A or a new Plan C for 2023. Plan C could be offering School Board enough former golf course land for one HHS campus on two sides of Garbers Church Road, money to build it (with solar panels), and the recently purchased 60 acres for the next elementary and/or middle school.

City Council could give School Board 90 to 120 days to explore with educators, architects, financial analysts, and the community the pros and cons of two schools versus one school. It may be that a single HHS would significantly reduce capital and operating costs, enhance educational opportunities, and reduce potential inequities of a two-school solution.

Kai Degner, M.B.A., served on Harrisonburg City Council from 2009-2016.

(11) comments

Comment deleted.

Is that one of your alternative facts?


Mr. Degner, on the face of it this seems to be a very reasonable suggestion. Perhaps the elementary school located on Garbers Church Rd could also be expanded onto the current city-owned golf course so purchasing additional land elsewhere for the construction of a seventh elementary school would not be necessary.


Seems like this writer's ulterior motive is nothing more than getting those solar panels.


Its too late now ... the land was purchased already off Rt 11. This plan is idiotic. Bulldozing the golf course would be lunacy but emblematic of left-wingers desires to wipe away perceived symbols of "wealth and privilege".


Newshound Evidently, you do not live in the city. Why is it too late? The school board wants to build an elementary school in a couple of years, so why not use this land to build an elementary school? What does bulldozing the golf course have anything to do with left-wingers desires to wipe out perceived symbols of "wealth and privilege. As you say idiotic statement!! Republicans as well as Democrats will see their taxes go up on the average of $250.00 a year on a $200,000.00 home. Again you are running your mouth and no nothing of what you speak. The building of the golf course was decided to be continued by Joe Fitzgerald casting the deciding vote. The golf course should have been shut down years ago. It was losing around $400,000.00 a year since it has opened. If you think this is idiotic, why don't you help solve this problem by sending the City a few extra thousand dollars a year or maybe you could pass the hat and help keep it open. Half a million dollars should do the trick!!!


You are correct I don't live in jmuburg and I thank God I don't. It is systematically being destroyed by leftists.


Newsie: FYI, the city golf course was not proposed by "leftists," but rather by "rightists."


Newshound, Why do you blame everything bad on the leftists? Again. I'll tell you that you don't know the whole story.Before you start blaming this group and that group take the time to research your subject and find out the facts. Without the facts your posts make you look, lets be kind and call it misguided. Again, you want to blame the leftists for the ills of Harrisonburg, in a way I guess you are right. Just remember before things are going to change in the city. the Republicans need to run someone, anyone, for City Council. If you were on the City Council, what would you want to do to remedy the new school problem? Raise everyone's taxes 12 to 14 cents on the hundred or would you think about closing the golf course, that is losing about half a million dollars a year. Would you want to build a hundred million dollar school or try to do something else and try to save money. Please don't ignore my post I am truly interested in what your ideas would be.


Yes, shut down Heritage Oaks! If not, tens of millions more will be waisted.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.