Could town get a rail stop?

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Council wants to make sure option is considered

By Tom Wilmoth

    Bedford Town Council discussed a couple of items on its wish list last Tuesday, including having rail service stop in Bedford and, for at least some council members, have a new high school built in the Liberty Zone.
Rail service
    With the planned return of rail service to Roanoke, and the success of the Lynchburg passenger service, council would like to see Bedford be considered for a stop since the proposed expansion will pass right through Bedford County and the town.
    In a letter to State Senator Steve Newman, Bedford Mayor Bob Wandrei states that Bedford has supported the expansion of the rail service, including through its involvement with the Smart Way bus service to the Lynchburg Station. “The success of this bus to rail program has helped demonstrate the demand for the expanded rail service,” Wandrei stated in his letter. “The result is that passenger rail service is going to be restored to the city of Roanoke.”
    Wandrei went on to state that since the service will pass through Bedford, the town should be considered for a stop. “The addition of a stop in Bedford would be a real benefit to the area,” Wandrei stated.
    Currently a study is being conducted to explore the expansion to Roanoke. Wandrei stated that the letter is an effort to alert Newman to the town and county’s interest in having a stop in Bedford.
New school
    Bedford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch attended last week’s meeting to update council on the school system. Construction of a new school was at the top of the list of what council members wanted to discuss.
    Dr. Schuch said the school system has to consider new ways to educate students, specifically looking for ways to allow students to progress at their own pace. “It’s still going to be about the teacher with the students,” he said.
    He also said plans to construct a new school remain on track for an August 2016 opening. But just what school will be built is still in question. The school board has put an option to purchase 50 acres next to the current Liberty High School. The original intent was to build a new middle school, but there has been a growing call by some members of the community to build a new high school and convert the current LHS facility into a middle school to replace Bedford Middle School.
    Dr. Schuch stated another option might be to combine the two campuses so the schools could share resources and facilities. “We really could do some creative things out there,” he said of the property the county is in the process of purchasing for the new school. A combined campus is the option Dr. Schuch said he supported. “I don’t know that my opinion will matter at the end of the day,” he added.
    Council Vice Mayor James Vest said council members would like to hear from the town’s representatives on the school board, to learn what they have to say on the school issues.
    Ultimately, Dr. Schuch said that the school construction decision will come down to what the county supervisors approve in funding. “At some point we will be bottom-lined by the county,” he said.
    Councilman Skip Tharp was discouraged that the county supervisors had reduced the school budget by $2.5 million for the current year, after gaining $6 million in additional state funds through the city’s reversion to a town.
    Several council members stated this was the community’s one chance to get the new school and said it should be done right.