The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors heard publicly for the first time Tuesday night the Gloucester County School Board’s plans for the replacement of Page Middle School. Superintendent of schools Ben Kiser walked supervisors through the school board’s Aug. 25 recommendation, which is to build a grade 6-9 middle school on the school system’s T.C. Walker Road site.
Several supervisors had questions and voiced concern about the school board’s recommendation. The boards will jointly hold a work session Sept. 20 to discuss the plan at length and learn more about how it will be funded.
The proposal, which will accommodate 800 middle school students and 500 ninth graders, comes with a $54,141,675 price tag. The existing high school will become a grade 10-12 facility under the proposal. Another item in this plan is improving the A wing at Gloucester High School and some other renovations there.
The plan also includes demolishing the current Page Middle School, except for its gym and auditorium, and building a new administrative and operations facility at that site. The existing gym and auditorium will be available for community use with renovations to these spaces necessitated by tornado damage. Page suffered severe damage from the April 16 storm.
Kiser said the school board expressed that this was the best plan that will accommodate long-range school and county office space needs.
Several supervisors asked if a monetary figure had been given yet for the school system’s insurance reimbursement for the damaged Page Middle School. Kiser said insurance took care of the immediate emergency needs of securing Page in the weeks after the tornado and has also provided $1 million toward the modular classroom units that are housing eighth grade Page students on the GHS campus. "This will get us through two years of leaving the modulars there," he said. "After that, we’ll have to pick up the tab."
Kiser said a final figure on the insurance settlement should be available soon.
At-large supervisor Michelle Ressler asked if state funding was available to rebuild Page, but school officials said they have not received a definitive answer.
York district supervisor Carter Borden said some residents are very concerned with the insurance figure. Sometimes, he said policies make different settlements on tearing down a structure and rebuilding it onsite versus completely abandoning that site and rebuilding elsewhere.
"We have replacement coverage," Kiser said. "In essence, our insurance would cover a rebuilding/repair, but not the other upgrades needed such as electrical and HVAC repair/replacement."
"Why do we need to abandon the site with the existing infrastructure already in place?" Ressler asked. That way, she said wetlands delineation and other studies would not have to be conducted.
"Unless you rebuild on exactly the same footprint, you have to treat it like a new site," Kiser said. "The school board doesn’t think rebuilding to the exact footprint is a good option," he said. "It just doesn’t make sense to us."
Garrey Curry, interim emergency services coordinator for Gloucester County, praised county staff for its response to Hurricane Irene. He praised Christi Lewis, county information officer, for her efforts in organizing the staff of the county’s emergency operations center, which included county staff, social services, sheriff’s office, and fire/rescue representatives, and for getting the necessary information out to the public in a timely manner. The health department also provided support to the EOC in health-related inquiries.