County Administrator Glen "Skip" Skinner told supervisors he has entertained a pair of inquiries by parties interested in submitting proposals to renovate the six high schools, if and when the school board ever solicits those proposals under the Public-Private Educational Facilities Act (referred to as the PPEA), which enables localities to solicit preliminary project proposals at no cost.
The Wise County School Board hired four architectural and engineering firms last year to conduct renovation studies of the six high schools and submit preliminary design recommendations. On Feb. 27, those firms also presented an estimated price tag of $109.5 million. Average cost of the preliminary design recommendations was estimated at between $60,000 to $65,000 per school.
While many in the county expressed shock at the $109.5 million renovations price tag, Supervisor John Peace II took issue with the cost of the preliminary design studies.
Last year the Board of Supervisors approved the PPEA, and Peace expressed dismay over the school board's snub of that option when pursuing potential renovations to the high schools.
On Thursday, supervisors approved a resolution to urge the school board to employ the PPEA to pursue other high school options, or when considering any other project for that matter. The resolution was pushed forward by Peace.
Also, after Skinner said he had fielded two inquiries into renovation proposals under that program, Supervisor Robert Adkins said he fielded one, too.
Skinner said he believed the unidentified parties who inquired could be expected to "put forth a first-rate project and proposals for the county schools," and Adkins said the firm he spoke with was very reputable as well.
Supervisor Virginia Meador questioned if the board was "getting out of our bailiwick" by telling the school board what to do, but she reluctantly joined the 7-0 vote in favor of the resolution once other supervisors and County Attorney Karen Mullins explained that the language of the resolution specifies the supervisors "request and encourage" the school board to pursue the PPEA, rather than a direct command.
The board also approved a 6 p.m. April 5 public hearing on a proposal, also brought by Peace, to ratchet up a resolution to county law to require the county school division to provide detailed category spending information to supervisors.
Board Vice Chairman Steve Bates, filling in for Chairman Ronnie Shortt who was in Richmond on Thursday, said the proposed ordinance "will be helpful" to the school board.
Supervisor Robby Robbins said the county administration needs to provide the school board with "parameters of what we can afford" when it comes to the high schools matter.
"One of the things (supervisors haven't done is) give any parameters what we can afford without a tax increase on debt service," Robbins said. "We have to have some figure in mind without a tax increase."
An article written by Lenowisco Planning District Commission Executive Director Ron Flanary and published this week in The Coalfield Progress also figured prominently during Thursday's meeting.
Walter Crouse and Danny Stallard of Wise used the article to bolster their anti-renovations stance, and Marlene Bush of Exeter, Angela Honeycutt of Andover and Robert Anderson, all defenders of Appalachia High School, slammed Flanary's article while arguing for renovations for their high school.
Flanary, himself a native of Appalachia and AHS graduate, basically informed readers that renovating five antiquated (average of 55 years old) and one 25-year-old but tiny high school - the largest high school in Wise County has just over 500 students - would be a huge and wasteful investment in the past, not the future.
"All we want is to keep our school," Anderson said. He called news reports about the issue "garbage" and said "no one has a right to tell me we don't have a right to have a school. If we lose it, Appalachia's gone."
Honeycutt said Appalachia has endured some tough times in recent years including surviving one threatened school closure, last year's death of a revered AHS football coach, and "some legal misgivings," apparently referring to last year's election fraud scandal - a messy situation that also resulted in the rounding up of a formerly thriving downtown gambling economy - that made the town a national laughingstock.
But, she said, Appalachia people "always had the will to fight ... for everything we got" and vowed to continue the fight to save their high school.