Thanks to an increase in federal funding and an upcoming decrease in the Wythe County Public Schools’ debt load, construction on a new Scott Memorial Middle School will likely begin in the spring of 2022, a year earlier than expected.
During an April 22 joint meeting of the Wythe County Board of Supervisors and the Wythe County School Board, Wesley Poole, assistant superintendent of finance and operations for the school system, said that one debt payment falls off in 2023 and a second ends in 2024, creating a savings of nearly $1 million.
That savings, combined with nearly $11.5 million in CARES Act/ESSER funding, means officials can move construction of Scott Memorial up a year. Not all of the federal money will be used for the middle school project; some will be used for improvements at Fort Chiswell High and Middle schools.
CARES Act is an acronym for The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; ESSER stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.
According to Poole, $3.5 million in ESSER funding must be spent by September 2023. Another $7.9 million must be spent by September 2024.
He said plans call for all of the $3.5 million to be spent for the 60,000-square-foot Scott Memorial project, for architect and engineering fees, HVAC and electrical and plumbing systems tied to the HVAC system.
The $7.9 million will be divided between work on Scott Memorial, classroom and restroom additions at Fort Chiswell Middle and HVAC for parts of Fort Chiswell High, including the gym, auditorium and cafeteria. Also, 20 percent of the funding will be used for learning loss projects like summer school.
Supervisor Jamie Smith said both boards need to build for future growth and make sure the new Scott Memorial Middle School is the correct size.
“Fort Chiswell Middle School was too small when it opened; we can’t afford to do that again,” he said. “It needs to be turn-key. If you try to cut costs, you end up paying double for it in the end.”
County Administrator Stephen Bear said he thinks the county can make the accelerated plan work with the ESSER funding guidelines.
Building a new Scott Memorial will be quicker than the recent George Wythe High School renovations, Poole said, because building a new school is a lot easier than renovating one.
Initial estimates put the price tag for a new middle school at approximately $16 million.
“By moving it up a year and being able to use $6 million in federal funds (for SMMS), you don’t have to use $6 million in local funds, and that should make everyone happy,” Poole said.
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