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Leaders in Chesterfield County say they are considering issuing bonds to build two new middle schools. The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and School Board convened during a rare joint work session Wednesday night to discuss issuing $130 million in bonds to pay for the construction. 

According to the announcement from Chesterfield leaders, many of the county’s 12 middle schools already operating at or above capacity. Adjusting school boundaries and shifting students from one attendance zone to another figured to provide limited relief at a cost of significant disruption to families and children. So both elected boards tasked their finance teams to work together and find a way to pay for two new middle schools now without adding to the county and school division’s existing debt service obligations. 

The plan they announced Wednesday splits $130 million in bonds between a new middle school in the western Hull Street corridor to relieve capacity issues at Tomahawk Creek Middle and address future student enrollment, and replacing Falling Creek Middle with a larger, modern building. 

“By thinking broadly and outside the box, county and school leaders and staff are accelerating relief for overcrowded schools, furthering equity among schools, and giving veteran teachers confidence in retirement,” said Dale District Supervisor James M. “Jim” Holland, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “We certainly have much more work to do, but it’s this kind of collaboration and ingenuity, coupled with exacting fiscal management over time, that’s getting us there sooner, and what sets Chesterfield apart.” 

The Board of Supervisors voted in April of last year to delay a planned bond referendum for capital projects until November 2022, but the supervisors and members of the School Board say waiting until 2022 to alleviate these issues is not an option. 

“We are known as a high-achieving, forward-thinking school system that works to do what is right for students. The schools proposed in the bond referendum signal a bright future — not just for our students but for the entire county,”  said School Board Chairman and Matoaco representative Ryan Harter.

While CCPS won’t submit official 2021-22 enrollment figures to the Virginia Department of Education until next month, Tomahawk Creek and Falling Creek were Chesterfield’s most crowded middle schools last year. During the 2020-21 school year, Tomahawk Creek had 1,648 students in a school built to accommodate 1,358 and operated at 121% of design capacity. Falling Creek had 1,431 students in a school built for 1,152 and operated at 124% of design capacity. Both extensively utilize modular classroom units.

The School Board’s current 5-year capital improvement program calls for both of these projects to be completed with proceeds from the county’s next bond referendum, in fall 2025.

“Students and staff at Tomahawk Creek Middle School have been in need of more space for some time, as have those at Swift Creek Middle. A new 360 West Middle School will help ease the burden on both of those schools while providing a new state of the art facility for our county,” said Dorothy L. “Dot” Heffron, the Clover Hill District’s representative on the School Board.

“Now is the right time to replace Falling Creek Middle with a larger, 21st-century building,” added Dale District School Board member Debbie G. Bailey. “Despite renovations and improvements over the decades, it is showing its age. The new building will boost the community and reduce the need to teach students in trailers.”  

The School Board is expected to vote on the middle school construction projects at its Sept. 14 monthly business meeting. The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing for its Sept. 22 meeting, after which it also is expected to vote on the proposed bond issuance.

Construction for each campus is expected to cost about $65 million and is expected to be completed by the start of the 2024-25 school year if approved. 

“Student enrollment is rising in Chesterfield, and we need to provide top-quality teaching and learning environments to affirm to families that they are making their home in the right place,” said Kathryn S. Haines, who represents the Midlothian District on the School Board.

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By vascope