Should the old King George Middle School be torn down and something new built in its place?
Or is it cheaper to gut the building, which opened in 1976 and seems structurally sound, and put in new systems?
County officials have pondered those questions since 2009, when the new King George High School opened and set off a domino effect.
Middle-school students moved from their old building on Dahlgren Road into the former high school building on State Route 3.
And, except for limited use by other county departments, the old school hasn’t held classes since. There’s no plan for the building.
“We’ve been talking about doing stuff to this for years,” School Board member Mike Rose said. “I’m kind of sick of talking about it, to be honest with you.”
The conversation reopened Wednesday night during a tour of the old school. The idea came up in late January, when the King George Board of Supervisors and School Board held a work session.
Members were talking about future needs, including a fourth elementary school. Supervisor Jim Howard reminded the School Board that the old middle school is “sitting there unused.”
“It’s a difficult topic,” School Superintendent Rob Benson responded.
“Yes, it is difficult, but it needs to be discussed,” Howard said.
School Board Chairman T.C. Collins said if he had his way, he’d tear it down and put the county’s fourth elementary school in its place. And he’d build a facility big enough to accommodate the county’s preschool classes.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry pointed out that no feasibility study has been done of the building to determine the better course.
That’s when the groups agreed to see the old middle school for themselves.
During the tour, they noticed the sturdiness of metal walls and cinder block construction. They also saw dozens of ceiling tiles pocked with mold spots and evidence of a leaky roof.
Benson talked about the most expensive needs: a new heating and air system that probably would cost about $2 million and a new roof. The building would have to be upgraded to be in compliance with new codes in place since construction, such as fire suppression and accessibility.
The splotches of black-colored mold seemed to bother the board members as much as anything.
“Is there mold up all through this place?” Supervisor John Jenkins Jr. asked, as he looked at one spotty ceiling after another. “That’s pretty costly.”
“This is looking bad,” agreed Supervisor Richard Granger.
“I didn’t expect it to look good,” Jenkins said.
“Not when it’s been abandoned for eight or nine years,” Howard said.
Parts of the building are in better shape than others, Benson said. They include the gym and old band room, which are used for Parks and Recreation games and by the high school’s JROTC program.
Gary Clift, the school’s maintenance supervisor, told the group he thought the building was sound structurally. He considers the electrical system another one needing replacement.
Encased wires run down the wall to long, skinny outlet covers.
The receptacles—where cords are plugged in—are dangerously close to the metal outlet covers, and Clift has seen plenty of little shocks from contact.
“But it’s got good walls and good floors,” Clift told the group.
He also wondered which is the best choice, renovating or rebuilding.
“You think you’re gonna save money, but are you really?” he asked.
“Not if you have to keep throwing good money after bad,” said School Board member Kristin Tolliver.
Supervisor Howard asked when the School Board will make its recommendation for the building. Chairman Collins said the School Board plans to put money in its capital improvements plan for 2017–2018 to commission a feasibility study.
Fellow School Board member Tammy Indseth, who asked for the study along with Gayle Hock, said she’ll wait for those results.
Indseth is an environmental scientist, not a structural engineer, but she does believe in the value of reusing things, including old schools.
“If the study comes back that it’s cheaper [by renovating] and we can make it what we need, then we should do it,” she said.