Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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Stafford High scheduled for improvements

The Stafford County school system’s recently approved capital plan calls for a $5 million, 20,000-square-foot addition to Stafford High School by September 2012. The school would also receive $30 million in renovations by September 2015, based on the capital plan.

The renovations will include enlarging classrooms and bringing more natural light into the building, Chief Facilities Officer Scott Horan told me today. A common complaint about Stafford High is its lack of windows–the classrooms have none–but it’s unclear how many windows will be installed during the renovations.

The capital plan previously called for replacing Stafford High, but the School Board thought that option was too expensive.

I’m writing a story about the capital plan, and I’d love to hear from teachers, parents or students at Stafford High. Please call me at 374-5402 if you have any comments.


  • bvandivert

    I went to Stafford from 1987 to 1991 and I can say that not having windows was different, but we managed. It could even be argued that it was one less distraction. Somehow, those of us who have gone there over the past 30 some odd years have managed to get an education-and a pretty good one at that. I applaud the SB’s decision not to replace the school. They should also reconsider the amount spent on renovations. Add more space, but adding windows? I think the money spent on that would be better spent on teacher salaries, educational materials or other items that will improve the quality of education. Buildings do not improve the quality of education.

  • Scott

    @bvandivert Agreed. The lack of windows we definitely not a big deal. That was nothing compared to paper thin walls between classrooms. On the other hand it forced the classes to keep the noise down, plus I was able to learn 2 different things from 2 different teachers at the same time.

    Having windows does provide additional exit routes which is a plus.

    P.S. I miss the jukebox.

  • Pam

    The windows are not the problem, the school needs to be enlarged cause the students don’t have room in the halls to walk around and get in their lockers with out getting knocked over. The school is over crowded !!

  • chameleon

    I’ve heard talk of renovations for Stafford schools for YEARS and years . . . and have yet to SEE any of these renovations. I don’t care about the cost at this point, I just want to see improvement! DO something!

  • jj

    Has anyone seen (I have not) a study or published report that correlates school district quality, area desirability, and home values? Having made ‘where to live choices’ in the past, I can say the quality of education and the and appearance of a school or facility greatly impacted my decision on where to live or send my kids to school.

  • 95SHSAlumn

    I have to agree with the above comments. The lack of windows was a non-issue (and almost a good thing), while the paper thin walls were a nuisance.

    Besides, how / where are would they add windows?? Most of the classrooms are interior rooms! Are they talking skylights?

    The real question is what is the additional 20k Ft for??? Increasing capacity or improving quality? I know they’re not double shifting it again, but it is pretty full over there now.

  • bvandivert

    Windows as emergency exits aren’t really useful-especially on the second floor. There are plenty of stairwells and when the one major fire that occurred in that school (in 1986) occurred, everyone was able to get out safely, even though the fire was IN a stairwell. As for thin walls, that can be easily solved through renovations. The county owns plenty of land over there and there’s lots of room for expansion. The real question should be is 20,000 square feet enough? I don’t doubt that the school is crowded (it wasn’t in 1991 when I graduated, but that was a long time ago) by now, but halls are plenty big, they don’t need windows, but they probably need to add an entire new wing with several new stairwells. With a new wing and numerous new classrooms, the students would be spread out among a bigger building and crowding in the halls should be resolved. In any event, repairing and expanding the existing building and using land we already own is a MUCH better solution than building a new building on land we’d have to purchase.

  • usviking8

    It is obvious that the first 7 respondents know very little about construction, building maintenance or educational facility design. The CIP advisory committee in 2007-08, on which I served as a construction professional made sweeping recommendations regarding the neglect of the schools in the southern part of the County. Site inspections of several schools were conducted. The annual report is still available on the SCPS website. Stafford High is on page 11 of that report. It contains a litany of serious mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues as well as an outdated layout and symptoms of overcrowding. The air conditioners are constantly breaking down. The electrical service can’t handle newer equipment. The auditorium and cafeteria are too small for the current population.

    Is it coincidence that ALL of North Stafford’s schools were either recently built or updated and now that Southern Stafford schools are all that’s left to work on we are suddenly out of money? Where’s the Parity? Stafford High recently received a softball field upgrade AND a new weight room, yet the Governor’s School doesn’t even have a science lab. Where’s the Board’s priorities? Stafford Schools already owns land for a new high school off Leland road and the design work is half done. We need a CTE facility in the County if we want our schools to keep pace with workforce demands. Stafford High was slated to be that site once HS 06 was built. What happened? I’ll tell you – North Stafford got what they wanted and now South Stafford is getting out-voted in both County chambers because the North doesn’t feel like paying for the upgrades and new schools needed in the South part of the County. Succession is looking better all the time.

  • usviking8

    …and here’s a few more thoughts:

    Stafford High has a design capacity of 1800 students. The cafeteria, auditorium, music and art classrooms, offices and special use rooms are already insufficient for that population. The school has been cited in the past for fire code violations related to overcrowding. What will happen when more students are shoe-horned in? …and they are coming with BRAC. Studies show that learning degrades and violence increases as overcrowding becomes more severe.

    The paper-thin walls are made of steel and designed to be relocatable. This was a pipe-dream of the architect and one of the many design failures of that school.

    Fredericksburg and King George both recently built new high schools at roughly 75% of the estimated cost of Stafford’s HS 06. Why is that? Could it be that the Board needs to create the appearance that saying NO is a good thing?

    Where will all the students go while Stafford High is receiving $30M in renovations? I suppose we could ship them around to the middle schools on 60 minute bus rides like we’re about to do with our elementary kids. I have a better idea – let’s bus the Mountain View kids to Stafford High and vice versa. It will probably take about a week for the Mountain View parents to see the conditions Stafford High kids live with every day and we’ll get HS 06 underway.

  • Sue

    I teach there and have for the entire time Stafford High has been opened. It was inadequate when it opened and it is impossible to remodel to meet the needs of the kids in southern Stafford. We are not talking about windows! Engineering studies have shown that windows cannot be added to the building. It’s about having 24 stalls for young ladies to use in the building in the five minutes we have between classes. Of course, you can use the bathrooms in PE if you take PE, or you can use one of the three stalls in the cafeteria restroom. It’s about the vibrations in the building that shakes a TV mounted on the paper thin walls when students change classes. It’s about the vibrations that cause modern data projectors mounted in the ceiling to re-calibrate every time classes change. It’s about the stove that finally died in culinary arts (which by the way is a room that is too small for more than 15 students) and it can’t be replaced because we don’t have enough electrical service to operate it. It’s about the leaks in the building–last year AFTER renovation, the girls locker room flooded from a pipe no one even knew was behind the wall. It’s about the computer lab in the English wing that has been repaired repeatedly but once again last week flooded the computer lab floor. It’s about using furniture that is original to the building when it opened. It’s about computer drops–yes drops–because there’s no way to wire the building or to set up a wireless service because of the steel walls. It’s about the size of the upper hall which everyone has to use to move from social studies/math to foreign language/science but it’s the narrowest hall in the building. It’s about the lack of ventilation–the fans don’t work. The air doesn’t move. It’s about the air conditioner, called chillers, that don’t work. One was down last year on the upper level where almost 3/4 of the kids sit in classrooms. It’s about an elevator that has been broken at least five times in the last five months. When this happens, students in wheel chairs just sit in the office as they cannot be carried upstairs to classes. It’s about having heat–wait! What? There is not heat in the building. It uses body heat to warm up. My classroom is one of the hottest rooms in the building but when no students are present, I need to have a portable heater. It’s about the poor quality of the building which cannot be modernized any more. Check the electrical settlement the board accepted from the most recent remodeling but never used the money to fix the messed up electrical service that ended up being worse than it was BEFORE remodelling. Stafford High School has managed over the 35 years to do an incredible job DESPITE the building. When students cannot have what every other high school student has in Mountain View, Brooke Point, North Stafford and Colonial Forge, why would any one who went to Stafford settle for less? Are you not worth it? Are your childdren not worth it? When it was the ONLY high school in Stafford, it was still not adequate. Some of the rooms are so small that only 10 desks fit into them so that students can walk to them. I had one of those rooms many years ago, and kids literally climbed over the desks to get to their seat. Is this what you want for your children? I hope not. Education isn’t about windows, it’s about equal opportunity to an education, to having what everyone else in the county has–a building fit to house and provide a learning environment that produces educated students. Any one who says the building is fine, hasn’t been in Mountain View and then Stafford. Aren’t we worth as much as the northern area? Don’t our kids deserve at least an EQUAL building? Think about it!

  • Dana

    This is not about the “North” and the “South”. It’s about unsanitary and possibly unsafe conditions at Stafford High. The last 2 posters picked heavily on Mountain View, which was over its 1,800 capacity last year. Are they suggesting Mountain View should never have been built? That North Stafford High with a capacity of only 1,925 students should have been over crowded by more than 1,800 students? Hmm… the “North” over capacity by more than 1,800 vs. the “South” over capacity by 59 students. Should the “North” have bused the 1,800 kids down to SHS doubling it’s capacity to over 3,600 students? Clearly the need was greater to build MVHS. Focus on the real issue here – conditions at SHS. If someone at Central Office is covering up the problems at SHS they need to be fired. The cost estimate to build the new SHS was almost double that of MVHS which was built 5-6 ago. Prices are down now, not up. Central Office needs to come back to BOS & SB with a more reasonable cost. Does someone have a favorite contractor they like to use that may be driving up the price estimates? Do we need more bids? Do we need to scale down the wish list for inside goodies? Teachers need to feel free to speak about current conditions at SHS without fear of reprisal. One brave one got up in front of the School Board last week, only to be met with a lame attempt by a staff member to downplay her concerns. Thanks to the Freelance Star it’s not going to be covered and swept under the rug this time. Let the truth come out. Get the facts out there.

  • usviking8

    The north always says it’s not about north vs. south. Easy to say when you’ve already got first class schools. The fact is that the vote will likely be 5-2 in both chambers to put band-aids on the southern schools. Looks like north vs. south to me…

  • Dean Fetterolf

    It was not that long ago that we had 1000 new students per year entering SCPS. Over the last 20 years we built 17 new schools, made 17 additions and have 5 major renovations scheduled.

    High School #6 was originally to have been built by 2010. HS#6 is in the proposed Comp Plan for 2010 and a CTE for 2011.

    Based upon the official population estimates from the VA Employment Commission the Comp plan has 17 new schools for 21,000 new students over the next 20 years.

    If this anti education BOS can’t see fit to fund HS#6 and a modern CTE facility it looks very bleak for the future 20 years!

  • Kristen

    Just a thought: If they “enlarge” the classrooms upstairs and make the hallways bigger there will be LESS classrooms. You can’t expand the brick exterior. Not having enough classrooms is just another problem we have here at Stafford High School. Adding a few additional classrooms in the new addition will not be enough.

    Now… Yes, renovations would help SOME things. Unfortunately spending millions of dollars now on a band-aid fix will only cost this county more in the long run. Please think in the LONG RUN and put the money aside for a NEW school.

    As Sue said, we have been successful despite our building. I have faith in our teachers and students that we can continue to do that without renovations. Let’s be honest, most teachers and students here will never set foot in the “new” building. They are fighting for it because they can see the big picture.

  • http://tchr1993 Sophia Ryder

    The money that is earmarked for the elementary school renovations that are set to take place in the near future needs to be spent on a new high school instead. How are teachers going to prepare these students with the 21st century skills they need to be competitive in such an archaic building? It’s a sad day indeed when teachers cannot bring a computer cart into the classrroom because there is no physical room for it and the wiring will not support the technology The conditions are SHS are not equitable with other high schools in the county and are, quite frankly, deplorable. Is this really the best we can do for our kids? I think our BOS and the School Board need to take a field trip to the area high schools. Once you see it, you really can’t believe it.

  • usviking8

    We need to renovate the elementaries AND Stafford High. All of these buildings have been scheduled for renovations for over 10 years and we have put it off longer than we should have in favor of athletic field improvements, weight rooms and electronic signs.

    The BOS HAS been to these buildings and still refuse to see the conditions. Some school board members also refuse to see. Go to the school website and find the CIP committee report for 2007-08. Leadership’s refusal to do the right thing has been on-going for years and it appears that it will continue unchallenged!

  • Kathryn

    The conditions at SHS are indeed deplorable. The air-conditioning and heat do not work, the elevator is a danger all its own, the faulty electrical system, and the list goes on and on. There have been students transferred because of mold allergies and various other sicknesses because of that building. Where is the parent outrage over this building and the lack of parity? Every day teachers ask students for their best; it is time the BOS and School Board do their best to provide a decent learning environment and work environment.

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