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School may keep automotive program


Stafford High School could be one step closer to keeping its automotive program onsite after the campus is rebuilt.

The School Board decided last night to have staff further investigate the design and costs of building a stand-alone automotive program on the campus of Stafford High. But that was about all the board members agreed on during a sometimes tense work session.

The board members split 3-3 on whether they wanted Stafford High students to take automotive classes at school or to travel to the nearby Germanna Community College campus for the courses.

Stafford High School is scheduled to be rebuilt on its existing site within the next three years. The new school will be about 10,000 square feet smaller than the current school, and there won’t be space in the school for the program that currently uses about 9,000 square feet.

“It was an issue of priorities, and that seemed to be what was wanted at the time,” said School Board member Patricia Healy who was on the board when the new school’s plans were approved. “But I don’t think anybody really understood the impact or how many students would be affected.”

The project should go out to bid in the next two months, and recently, a spate of students, teachers and former students have come before the board to complain about the disappearance of the auto bays.

Scott Horan, assistant superintendent of facilities, then told the School Board that the program could be added onsite—but not in the building—for about $3 million.

Monday night, Horan came back to the board with a bare-bones proposal to house the automotive program.  That building would be 5,445 square feet and would cost about $1.3 million, he said.

School Board member Dewayne McCosker questioned that cost, saying that a similar project had been completed for $260,000. He asked Horan to explain the discrepancy.

Horan said he doubted that estimate was accurate and that comparing the projects would not be “comparing apples to apples.”

He continued, “I have no confidence whatsoever, very little if any, confidence in that figure.”

McCosker countered, “It’s taxpayer money, i’m not interested in your displeasure.”

Horan gave the board  options to find money for the project, including dipping into the new school’s furniture fund, taking money from the health benefits account or deferring planned building projects.

Board members expressed hesitation to use any of the options proposed. But three members—McCosker, Meg Bohmke and Patricia Healy—said they wanted to keep the automotive program onsite. Three other members—Nanette Kidby, Stephanie Johnson and Dana Reinboldt—wanted the county to instead partner with Germanna for the program.

Bohmke said the program would grow enough to support both an onsite facility and a partnership with Germanna.

The School Board’s Hartwood District seat is now vacant, which allowed for an evenly split vote on the matter. Applications for the seat are due Nov. 16, and the School Board members will then interview applicants and appoint a new representative.

The board hasn’t yet made an official vote on the project. Superintendent Randy Bridges asked for direction on how staff should proceed on the project. The board agreed to ask Horan to develop a design for the project and to see how much it would cost.

At the School Board meeting following the work session, Stafford High School drafting teacher Bobby Jett questioned Horan’s plans for the smaller building and submitted plans for a building that would be 6,000 square feet with four bays.

Horan told the board that he proposed the smallest building possible because this facility was being squeezed into an already planned project.

“Every square foot that you build here is at the expense of something else,” Horan said.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973