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Now it's time to enjoy the finished product

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Yesterday, the dedication ceremony for the Jefferson Forest High School renovation project was scheduled to be held — some 10 years after discussion about such a project began.

This hasn’t been an easy process. But after all of the years, the contentious meetings and the numerous disagreements about what should be done, the county has a project it can be proud of and the JFHS community has a facility that should meet its needs for years to come.

Here are a few facts to consider about the JF project:

• Once the decision was made to go with the renovation project — as opposed to building a new school — construction took less than 2.5 years to complete, some eight months ahead of schedule. The project was originally scheduled to be completed by April 2009 but good weather and coordination between the school and workers helped facilitate the early completion date. And there was a lot of hard work and extra time put in by those overseeing the project, including JF Principal Tony Francis, Bedford County Schools Project Manager (officially known as Clerk of the Works) Charlie Peterson and Bedford County Project Manager Bill Gillespie. At times, the schedule necessitated 12 hour work days (or more), seven days a week. And there wasn’t only one project going on over this time period. Construction of a new gymnasium and classroom space is also under way at Staunton River High School and there is also a new bus loop being built at New London Academy.

• The project not only came in early, but also under budget. At a time when the cost of doing just about everything is going up, this fact is a welcome change. The JF project was bid out through the Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) process for $38.5 million and JSK Partnership was selected to do the work. While the county supervisors were somewhat skeptical of the PPEA process when it was first considered, it worked so well at JF that the process was also used to bid the SRHS project, also a JSK project. Out of this process, a better working relationship was fostered between the school board and the county supervisors. A working committee between the two boards helped oversee the work. The hope is that the savings from the two projects — the SR project is also running ahead of schedule and under budget — will help the county schools undertake some much-needed maintenance projects that have been put off because of budget constraints.

• The new school should meet the needs of Jefferson Forest High School for years to come. The project expands the student capacity to 1,600 students — and did so with some unique planning. The school’s current enrollment is less than 1,400, but once it reaches that plateau teachers will be able to share classrooms because of three teacher work centers that were included in the renovation work. These centers will give teachers an area to go to when not teaching and will allow the classrooms to be used an extra period throughout the day. The project also included a gymnasium, auditorium, math and science building, school offices, locker rooms, a wrestling room and an updated multi-purpose room that takes the place of the old gymnasium. Workers also expanded the cafeteria and transformed the old auditorium into spaces for band, chorus and drama classes. There are new tennis courts and practice and physical education fields. And the mobile classrooms are now gone.

Regardless of where one fell on the original discussion — new school vs. renovation — the finished product is one that everyone can celebrate. It wasn’t easy, but 10 years later it’s finally done.