PA is (finally) on the way to a new building

PA is (finally) on the way to a new building

Fin Worrall, Staff Writer

Princess Anne High School is feeling the strains of time. After 68 years of history, thousands of students, one fire that burnt down a third of the building, and a renovation project, it sometimes feels like a collage of parts of different schools. According to the Capital Improvement Program Report published in 2021, not only is PA the oldest high school in VBCPS, but it sits 8.3% over capacity, the second highest in the division. PA’s modernization project has sat on the horizon for much of the past 20 years, deferred and delayed since at least 2008, despite the hopes of the PA community.

Recently, the City Council approved a school board proposal that will finally initiate plans to create a new chapter in the history of Princess Anne High School.

On March 7, 2023, the city board unanimously approved $15.4 million in funds to enter into an interim design agreement with S.B. Ballard Construction Company. The agreement is payment for 30% of designs for three schools, Princess Anne High School, Bettie F. Williams Elementary, and Bayside High School, produced after 12 months of work. These designs will not only use Educational Specification studies, but will engage the public through meetings with students, teachers, and parents on issues like cost per square foot, environmental education, and special needs students.

Once the 12 months are up, VBCPS and the city will look at the designs and the guaranteed maximum price, deciding whether to move forward with these plans or go in a different direction.

If accepted, the school division will create a partnership with S.B. Ballard and Company under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA). This act allows school systems to select a general contractor motivated to get the best costs and design possible, managing and providing essential experience to the project. PPEA agreements, while not used before in the school division, is a low-risk alternative to the conventional design, bid, build system that the school system usually uses.

Most importantly, the agreement will be able to get the project done quickly.

The project will build three schools, PAHS by Aug. 2028, Bettie F. Williams Elementary School by 2031, and Bayside High School by 2038. The longer a project takes, the more expensive it gets, a major concern for everyday purchases, as well as large infrastructure projects. A recent evaluation of the cost of the three schools? $714 million. Under the PPEA agreement? PA will be pushed up half a year to Jan. 2028, Bettie F. Williams by four to 2027, and Bayside High School by seven to 2031. The project will be reduced in cost to $428.8 million, saving $270 million in the process. 37% of that number, or $162 million, will go to PA. Despite the price decrease, the project will still be expensive, and much of the city and school boards’ discussions have revolved around the issue of cost and rising prices hitting everything from concrete to labor.

“Our schools are the reason why residents choose to live in Virginia Beach, and why businesses choose to locate themselves here. Our school system and our city’s overall economic prosperity and growth are all inextricably linked,” says Joash Schulman, representative of District 9 and Princess Anne itself. These infrastructure plans may be costly, but the city and school boards believe that this is money well spent, continuing the reputation of VBCPS.

Once the design stage is over, PA students and staff will need to move to the temporary replacement building, located in what was once the Kellam High School building, 9.4 miles away from PA. Currently, much of the temporary building is being occupied by the school system administration as their building is renovated, meaning that the offices and cubicles that the school administration has set up will need to be torn out before the building can be used by PAHS. If they move out of the building next school year, “then we’ll use the next summer and part of that school year preparing it to be our transition site. So, we’ll move in summer of 2025” says Principal Todd Tarkenton.

The transition will be a major adjustment for PAHS staff and students, one that will require packing up much of the contents of PA and shipping it to the temporary building. “Not this year, but next year [the teachers] are going to start to need purging things that they don’t need, things that are a luxury to have,” stated Tarkenton.

On top of this, the swing site is far from PA, necessitating much of the zoned student population to adapt to up to an hour-long bus drive or a 30-minute-long commute for those driving.

Projected to finish in 2028, the new building will have an estimated lifetime of 110 years, bringing PA into the 21st century, expanding on the arts, collaborative and athletic spaces, and incorporating vocational education. Completed in 2012, the new Floyd E. Kellam High School building may show some of the features utilized in the design of PA. S.B. Ballard describes design elements such as “learning commons, experimental labs, collaboration stations, and modular classrooms,” and an emphasis on sustainability-based design “cool roof to minimize solar heat gain,” and “bamboo wood floor in the gym”.

Due to the small square footage of PA’s site, to fit the necessary changes, the building will have to be extended upwards, meaning that the building will need to be at least three stories, noted Tarkenton.

With the City Council’s approval of the interim agreement, the beginning of the end for the current PAHS building has finally begun. As it stands, the building will be torn down, PA students and staff will move to the temporary building, and construction will begin on the replacement and end in 2028, the oldest high school in the division succeeded by the newest. The slate will be cleaned, but the PAHS’s history will not be forgotten.

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