By Ted Shockley
It’s official: Northampton County will borrow almost $29 million for additions and renovations to its high and middle-school complex in Eastville.
A unanimous vote Tuesday night by the Northampton Board of Supervisors on the spending plan ends years of questions on how the county will fix the crumbling building and finance repairs.
Next will be years of input, planning, demolition of the school’s 1954 section, renovation of its 1978 section, and structural additions.
School Board Chairman William Oakley told supervisors during a public hearing that the plan “is a dream come true for me.”
The benefits of the modern school “will impact this entire county,” he said.
Condition of the aging school “has always been an issue,” said Spencer Murray, chairman of the board of supervisors.
The decision to invest in Northampton High comes at a challenging time for the school and the school system.
Northampton has been hemorrhaging students for years, and the student headcount from kindergarten through 12th grade was 1,453 on Sept. 30, Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said. That’s nearly half of the student population of a generation ago.
Further, almost 23 percent of the high school’s students last year were “chronically absent,” meaning they missed 15 or more days.
Lawrence said the school system is taking students and parents to court “every week” to ensure they’re in class.
“We take kids to court on a regular basis,” he said. “We take parents to court.”
Supervisor Oliver Bennett, who made the motion to borrow the money, said he hoped more of an emphasis would be placed on maintenance and care of the rebuilt school “inside and out.”
He also said he hoped the school board would take steps to address “school attire” and the use of “electronic devices” at the facility.
The idea of a state-of-the-art high school was seen as by officials as a tool for education, economic development and student recruitment — and an example of governmental collaboration.
“It was a great team effort,” said Supervisor John Coker on the process.
“I think we’re going to end up with a great school.”