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School board OK's Christiansburg redistricting, renovation projects

100 students moving this fall, $100 million construction projects in works

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – In three years, Carrisa Fraser's three kids have moved schools three times and pretty soon, it will be four.

She and her family just moved to Christiansburg in August. This fall her kids will be among the 100 students forced to relocate to Falling Branch Elementary School to fix overcrowding issues at Christiansburg Elementary School (CES), Belview Elementary School and Christiansburg Primary School (CPS).

"Next year will be [my oldest daughter's] last year in elementary school. She really doesn't want to move again," said Fraser.

Tuesday, the school board approved a plan to relocate the students. It also approved a $100 million plan to add classrooms and renovate cafeterias and gyms at all three elementary schools and the high school starting in 2020.

The elementary school projects would cost $35 million, with CPS being the most expensive at $19.3 million. That start date is expected in 2020.

CES and CPS will each get about 10 new classrooms in order to get rid of portable classrooms on the campuses. Belview will get four to six new classrooms. Cafeterias and gyms will be renovated at all three buildings.

"The facilities, when we came in, were a little bit disturbing because they were so old," Fraser said. "And the class sizes are huge."

At the high school, the project would cost $70 million, with design work starting in 2020 and construction beginning in 2023. Capacity would grow from 866 to 1,400. The high school currently has 1,040 enrolled students.

Before breaking ground, the school board would need the approval of the county, which is already strapped for cash. On average, 70 percent of the county's budget goes to the schools. And this coming year, the county can only borrow up to $16 million for capital improvement projects.

Another factor that plays into the school's budget is that the school board would like $1.2 million to go to the schools' operational costs -- to cover expenses like teacher raises -- instead of building improvements, originially proposed in the Montgomery County FY20 budget. The school board presented that idea to the county's supervisors Thursday night.

"The need is greater there at this time. And combined with our borrowing capacity as a county, we think we have a plan that will be able to solve the capital problems in the next eight to ten years," said Mark Cherbaka, a school board member.

Fraser is looking to buy a home in the new district so her kids won't have to switch schools. However, she said if they do end up moving, the hassle will be worth it in the long run.

"Any improvement is going to be good," Fraser said.

The school board still has to officially present the plan to the board of supervisors, which would then make a decision on whether or not to approve the funding.

On Monday, April 15, the supervisors are set to vote on the FY20 budget.


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