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School board discusses new sites for middle school; public weighs in

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The Bedford County School Board is still looking at the possibility of constructing a new middle school near Liberty High School, but it appears any possibility of building the school on the current LHS site is gone.
Following a public hearing to discuss the three alternate plans for building the new school at the LHS property, board members distanced themselves from that proposal, choosing to begin looking for new sites, including one off US 460 in which developer George Aznavorian has offered to donate about 40 acres for the school to be built there.
During the public hearing, Aznavorian urged the board to take a look at that site, noting the fact that it is adjacent to the YMCA and would have easy access from US 460.
This Thursday, the board will vote on whether to have a feasibility study conducted for that site, which could also be used as a blueprint for other sites that might be considered. The board could potentially add other sites to be considered as part of the new feasibility study.
“Clearly we have a lot more work to do on this effort,” School Board chairman Gary Hostutler stated after the public hearing.
During a work session following the hearing, the board discussed a variety of options, including building a new high school and using the current LHS facility as a middle school. Though any thoughts of building the new middle school adjacent to the high school didn't have board support—mainly because space appeared to be too tight—continuing to look for a site near LHS was a priority for several board members.
“I would like to see what other options are available,” stated District 2 board member Jason Johnson.
Construction of a new middle school has been estimated to cost between $30 million to $40 million. Hostutler said constructing a new high school could be cost prohibitive, up to double the cost of a new middle school.
District 6 board member Kelly Harmony favored exploring Aznavorian's offer. Potentially, she said it could be used to build a middle school now and potentially a high school later.
School superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch said it is important for the board to first determine which school it wants to build, a new middle school or a new high school.
“I would hate for us to go through all this effort and build the wrong school,” he said.
He added that taking a look at Aznavorian's land would be a wise investment to see if it's feasible for a school to be built there.
“It's too big of a gift not to look at it,” added District 7 board member Kevin Willis about that offer.
As part of the city of Bedford's reversion to a town, Bedford County agreed to build a new middle school in the Liberty Zone to replace Bedford Middle School. Because of its size, BMS is the only county middle school that doesn't have all of the sixth graders in that zone at its school.
The new school is tentatively planned to open in August 2016.
Tuesday's public hearing was an opportunity for the public to comment on the feasibility study conducted by Wiley & Wilson architects to determine the feasibility of locating the new middle school on the current LHS campus, creating a combined campus to serve students in grades six through 12. While the study provided three options for the proposal, board members and several area residents who spoke at the hearing believed there wouldn't be enough space. All three proposed options in the study called for moving sports fields to a new location in order to make room for the new middle school.
“There's no space,” stated Robin Hartman of the proposal to build the middle school adjacent to LHS. “What happens if we need to expand? There's no where to go.”
Several speakers did favor having the middle school as close to the high school as possible, noting that it allows for the schools to share teachers and facilities.
Cynthia Gunnoe urged the board to take time to make the correct decision. “Don't' sell our students short in the long run,” she said, noting that she supported having the two schools as close together as possible.
Mary Jo Boone, who has children at both the high school and middle school in the Liberty Zone, said the LHS property isn't large enough to put both schools together. Boone, who is executive director at the YMCA, urged the board to look at Aznavorian's offer, adding a new school “would have no better neighbor than the Y.”