City leaders agree with merger of McHarg, Belle Heth elementary schools during renovation

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By Heather Bell

RADFORD – City leaders are in agreement that the plan to merge McHarg and Belle Heth elementary schools during the renovation process of McHarg is the best option for students, and the city’s finances.

The plan to move McHarg students to Belle Heth during the renovation was recently approved by the Radford City School Board and presented to the Radford City Council in a joint work session on Jan. 27.

“An Executive Transition Committee, including representatives from our local fire and police departments, city officials, school officials, school board members,and our architecture and engineering firm, Thompson & Litton, has found the best option to ensure the overall health of the school population is to relocate the students and staff of McHarg Elementary during the renovation/addition process,” according to a statement from the city public school system. “By doing this, and giving our contractors access to the entire McHarg campus, we can condense the renovation/addition timeline from four years to approximately 16 months.”

“Construction can disrupt our students’ day-to-day routines,” the statement continues. “These disruptions can present themselves in the way of loss of internet, phone service, power, bathroom facilities and building access as well as the inconvenience of changing rooms, constant interruption due to noise and loss of outdoor spaces. While we may be able to overcome these obstacles and keep the learning environment as stable and healthy as possible, we must evaluate every aspect of how the renovation could negatively impact our students.”

Radford’s mayor, school board chair and school superintendent are in agreement that the plan chosen is the best option moving forward.

“Safety is paramount,” said Radford Mayor David Horton. “The students must be in a productive environment free from the challenges of construction as much as possible. Since we are not building a new school from scratch, the school board has been trying to find the best path forward that allows for construction and provides the best student experience we can. From what was presented, I think we have a workable solution even though it will be a challenge for our community.”

School Board Chair Lee Slusher agrees.

“As we prudently plan for a 21st Century McHarg Elementary, fiscal responsibility is extremely important to the school board,” Slusher said.a “However, the welfare of our students must remain our top priority. Much deliberation occurred before the decision was made to uproot our PreK through second graders and send them to Belle Heth.”

“[There will be] huge changes coming for them, as well as the students moving to other classrooms or mobile units at Belle Heth to accommodate the younger children,” Slusher continued. “The teachers and staff at both schools are faced with many challenges.

“As a former teacher, I can imagine the panicked thoughts that are occurring in both schools, but Radford has wonderfully dedicated teachers who will understand that the disruption for one year is much better than having our youngest and most vulnerable children spending their school day on a construction site. This is simply an unsafe environment for learning, even if contractors are working in different wings if the building.

Slusher said, “Safety and health hazards like dust, dirt, construction materials, workers in and out of the building – the list goes on. We still have logistics and details to determine, but I firmly believe we’re making the best choice for a difficult situation.”

The school board has also approved a final draft conceptual plan for the renovation of and additions to McHarg. Radford City Public Schools Superintendent Robert Graham says the plan to merge the two schools during the construction phase and thereby save money by reducing the timeline of the project, will offer the best chance of keeping all parts of the conceptual plan in the final project.

“This plan is the safest and most equitable and has the greatest chance of saving a significant amount of money while helping to keep from eliminating space on the current conceptual draft design which is so important to our students, staff and school community,” said Graham.

The statement about the plan on the RCPS website (www.rcps.org) says the plan “reflects the need to provide varied and flexible learning spaces which are paramount for the 21st Century learner and places an emphasis on updating the HVAC, school security, bathroom facilities, a dedicated gymnasium, teacher workrooms, and a less congested traffic flow.”

Superintendent Graham added, “Our excitement has grown tremendously knowing that this plan will provide a safer and more equitable transition as we have condensed the timeline and kept our youngest students from having to learn and grow in a construction zone for four years. Many thanks to our staff at BHES and MES for their willingness to come together in the best interest of our children.”

More information about the project can be found at www.rcps.org.