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The Waynesboro School Board voted last month to go forward with plans to build a new Waynesboro High School, cost and location to be determined later.
Waynesboro City Council, importantly, will have to give its formal blessing to the plan, which will cost city taxpayers in the area of $75 million, and also leave a 19-acre hole in the heart of the city.
Is going the new construction route the right move?
Some of the issues pointed out by School Board members are clearly hard to overcome with a simple renovation at the current location, which would cost an estimated $46 million. The current footprint for the high school is on a landlocked parcel adjacent to Downtown Waynesboro, meaning any idea of expansion would have to come with a plan for buying adjacent commercial properties, which could certainly be done.
And one could envision a forward-thinking architect being able to do something with the current football field, with an eye toward using what is now the WHS soccer field on an adjoining property to host football games, either for building expansion, additional parking, a combination of both.
So maybe the current location isn’t as expansion-proof as it appears.
But to the other side of the thinking, to a new location. One advantage is that classes go on for current students without any disruption to education that would come with ongoing renovations, though that’s hardly a deal-breaker. A clear advantage is the ability to design by and large to suit not only current needs, but also expected future needs.
Though it is here that we have to think about the future needs in public education. A lot of thinking has gone into how Waynesboro High School is nearing its 80th birthday, and how plans for new construction should take into account the next 80 years of the history of WHS.
OK, let’s bite on that. Is it realistic to assume that Waynesboro High School circa the year 2095 is going to look anything like what it does now, or would look in a couple of years at a brand-new high school?
With advances in virtual learning proceeding at a rapid pace in higher education, one has to wonder how far off into the future colleges and universities will continue to view their sprawling campus layouts as assets and not liabilities.
At some point in the next 50 years, then, a 40-acre high-school campus could very well be obsolete, as trends in higher education make their way down to the high-school level, and students access education through a combination of classroom, online and on-the-job opportunities.
There’s no doubting that Waynesboro needs to do something about the current high school. We’re not talking here about doing a $75 million new high school or doing nothing. This is a $30 million decision, then, not a $75 million one.
Both pots of money are huge for this community. More thought needs to go into making sure that we get this right before we move forward.
– Column by Chris Graham