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By Tom Wilmoth
The Bedford County School Board would like a new middle school in the Liberty Zone to be built either adjacent to the current Liberty High School, or at least nearby.
During a work session Thursday, school board members eliminated several options that have previously been proposed for the new middle school, which is to be built as part of the reversion agreement on pace to take place next July. Options eliminated as part of the discussion included building the new middle school on the current county property where Bedford Primary School is located, building it on property near Thaxton along U.S. 460 or building it on proposed sites along Independence Boulevard in Bedford.
The school board hopes to have studies on the two proposals—adjacent to the high school or near it—conducted by the end of this year with education and facility specifications decided by May of next year. That would allow the project to go out to bid next spring—most likely through a Public-Private Educational Facilities Infrastructure Act process—with a contract signed by January 2014. The timetable would call for ground to be broken on the project by August 2014 with an opening date of August 2016.
If the reversion of Bedford to a town does take place, as is anticipated next July, the county would immediately take over the responsibility for educating the students who now live in the new town. Currently the city has a contract with the county for those services to be provided, but maintains ownership of Bedford Middle School and Bedford Elementary School. The reversion agreement calls for the county to take over ownership of BES, but would lease BMS until a new school is built. That lease payment would increase substantially is a new school is not built within a certain time period.
By the 2016-2017 school year, BMS, which would then include sixth grade students from all Liberty Zone students, is expected to have an enrollment of 550 students. The new school is expected to be built to serve up to 700 students.
If the new middle school is built next to the high school, the school board would also look at improvements to the high school including to its science, auditorium, gym, cafeteria, library and athletic fields. That option would potentially allow the schools to share some of those facilities.
Board chairman Gary Hostutler said he would like to get away from the campus facility currently used by the high school.
When discussion of building a new middle school began last year, the Thaxton location was favored by several school board members as well as at least one member of the board of supervisors. David Vaden, who was then the school board chairman, favored the Thaxton location along with then school board member Shirley McCabe. Both Vaden and McCabe have since left the board. Supervisor Annie Pollard was also on a committee looking at the sites and favored the Thaxton site.
Not long after that joint school board and supervisors committee met, the two boards met in a joint work session to discuss the issue, but got little accomplished. Since then, prior to Thursday's work session, there had been little discussion about the new middle school.