What is the worth of PA?

Ana Costanzo, Staff Writer

By Ana Costanzo

Every passing year is another lost moment to seize an opportunity for the possible total rebuilding of Princess Anne High School. During the year of construction, school will be held in the old Kellam High School.

A long-range master plan document of 2018 for the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) showcases PAHS as beginning the renovation process in 2023.

Freshman Tommy Perez is “underwhelmed” by this date (he expected a 2021 renovation process beginning), but he acknowledges the school as operational.  

Unfortunately, Vice Chair member for the Virginia Beach School Board (VBSB) Kimberly Melnyk is not confident the long-range master plan for PA is appropriate considering the School Board’s funding issue. 

According to Melnyk, the VBSB has only $4 million worth of funding. While the economy is booming financially, the “construction industry is expensive,” she clarified.

Certainly the “all mighty dollar,” according to Melnyk, is reason enough for suspicion regarding the 2023 time frame. According to the long-range master plan of the VBCPS, the document estimates funding for high schools as over $100 million. Indeed, Melnyk stated the PAHS modernization project as estimating $127 million. 

If not reached by 2023, this $127 million will not be transferred into a new funding project. The money is “specifically for PA,” Melnyk clarified. 

A 2019 Capital Improvement document shows PAHS as the foremost VB school on a list of 15 other contenders. “[VBCPS] created a survey to scope which school should be renovated next,” said Melnyk regarding PAHS’ status on the modernization and replacement program list. 

Currently, the VBSB is modernizing three different school projects: John B. Dey Elementary School (built in 1956), Thoroughgood Elementary School (built in 1958), and Princess Anne Middle School (built in 1974), which are all set to be completed within 2020-2021, according to a 2019 Capital Improvement document. Built in 1954, PAHS is the oldest school in Virginia Beach.

However, in September 1995, a fire destroyed “about one-third of the building,” according to a VBSB archive on PAHS. Because of the fire, the city rebuilt the two-story 200 hall building; rebuilt the second floor library; and created a new wing for art classes/studios, according to the archive. According to Melnyk, the city labelled PAHS as a “new-old” school, allowing the older schools mentioned above to gain funding for the modernization processes. 

When regarding the future of PAHS, junior Anna Seyrlehner predicted the school as either undergoing a complete renovation or being sold because of “real estate” surrounding PAHS (most notably Town center). 

“The school land is not being sold,” said Melnyk regarding the speculation surrounding the potential selling of profitable land. She further stated, “[PAHS] is Virginia Beach property.”

When the VBSB gathers enough funding to begin the modernization process of PAHS, students and faculty will move to the old Kellam High School on Holland Road where the Princess Anne Middle School currently resides. “The VBSB hasn’t gotten rid of it yet because it is a swing space,” said Melnyk. Students will be bused to this school approximately nine miles away from the current PAHS building. Melnyk views this busing as an “inconvenience” to faculty and students. 

Contrary to Melnyk, English teacher Angela Hamrick does not see the busing as causing potential complications. “With the beginning of every school year, [the school] figures out the timing and the parking…[everyone] will get used to it,” said Hamrick. 

Not only does Hamrick view the busing as causing no foreseeable issues, but views the renovation process as overdue. 

“The building is functional,” said Hamrick, “but we see its age coming through and things constantly break down.” 

Indeed, the very beginning of the school year is a prime example to showcase PAHS’ age, according to Hamrick. “For the first three weeks of school our AC didn’t work in some rooms… other times we walk in and there are other problems we encounter simply because of the old building. A new building and systems will eliminate the physical problems we encounter here.” 

While the VBSB collects the funds for the renovation process, the city is paying for improvements in the school. In 2018, the city spent $450,000 on furniture, according to Melynk (these desks will transfer to the new school); the city, too, upgraded the Promethean boards to ViewSonic technological boards, as well as painting classroom and hallway walls. 

Teaching at PAHS since 2001, history teacher Judith Petykowski regards the improvements as something always in high demand for a school requiring extra attention because of its age — “there just won’t be enough.”

Because the modernization process is to begin in four years, Melnyk is unaware of what advances will be added to the school, these recent improvements only a glimpse of future educational products in PAHS. 

Therefore, the renovation process will see the building gather new resources, but the VBSB is unsure of what the process will append.

“For all the ways they would like us to have flexible learning environments, you need a little bit more space than the standard normal box classroom,” said Petykowski, regarding a possible classroom expansion in the new school. 

Likewise, a “cohesive school layout” for the new PAHS would prove less distracting for students and faculty, according to Seyrlehner. “It’s… confusing to follow where photography and ROTC classrooms are…” 

But these predicted renovations are anticipated after 2023, graduation year for current freshman students.

Moreover, Perez acknowledges the modernization of the school as needing a “deep cleaning” such as removing grout from indoor tiles and fixing the bug infestation. 

Undergoing the modernization process for PAHS and gathering sufficient funds, the city is limited with resources, and with Melynk unsure of an accurate picture to describe the beginning process for renovation, students and faculty remain restless, according to Perez.

“An earlier renovation process would secure safety in [students and teachers]. With a longer waiting period, the more potential safety hazards could occur.”