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BY DAN McFARLAND
Orange County supervisors and School Board members have agreed to move quickly to address a shortage of science labs at Orange County High School.
The two boards held a joint meeting Thursday to discuss overcrowding and career and technical education programs at the high school.
While presenting several options for longer-term solutions to a looming overcrowding issue, School Board members emphasized that the lack of science labs needs action now.
Current lab classes average 30 students each. Safety and supervision requirements for classes of this size have meant that, for the most part, lab experiments have been reduced to demonstrations only, with students not allowed to conduct their own.
Schools Superintendent Bob Grimesey said that new Standards of Learning for science will require hands-on lab experience for students.
"The most immediate and urgent need is our children have to actually be doing labs. We can no longer just let them watch labs. We've got to get the science labs as soon as we can get them," he said.
The School Board proposed a two-phase plan to solve the problem. The first step involves installing five modular classrooms next to the high school, at a cost of approximately $329,000. Once those are in place, three current classrooms would be modified into two additional science labs, at a cost of approximately $496,000.
The total project is expected to take some nine months to complete. It could solve the current shortage of science lab space by next school year, if the request for proposals is issued by December, Grimesey said.
The boards did not take official action, but supervisors agreed that the problem must be fixed quickly.
Supervisors Chairman Teel Goodwin noted, "I think we can all agree that we've got a first step, and it is coming at us whether we choose to watch it or not. It is here."
Supervisor Lee Frame expressed support for having more labs in place by next year.
"I suggest that we ask county staff to figure out where the money comes from," he said.
Frame said solutions to the longer-term overcrowding issue need more discussion.
Based on current standards, the capacity of the high school is 1,531 students. The current enrollment is 1,514 students, but it is expected to rise to 1,531 next year and continue to grow to 1,592 in 2016-17.
The School Board has been pushing to improve the career and technical education program, which offers job training for students not planning to attend college while helping solve the overcrowding issue.
One idea is to build a two-story, 21,000-square-foot addition to the high school to handle those classes. Another is to create a separate CTE facility.
The addition would cost around $5.6 million and boost capacity to 1,779. The separate CTE facility would cost $15.3 million and create a combined capacity of more than 2,000 between it and the high school.
The two boards will meet again Oct. 9 to continue discussions.