September 15, 2008

Go Slow on New High School

CHESAPEAKE SCHOOL officials are wisely reconsidering how soon an eighth high school should be built. Though many of the secondary schools are overcrowded, enrollment trends indicate the situation should ease in coming years. A high school population bubble is contracting.

The school division already owns the land on Elbow Road for the school. When the site is needed, the division should proceed with construction.

Officials and the School Board, however, should be in no hurry because of the weakening economy and huge costs to renovate other structures . With houses staying on the market longer, there's less of an influx of high-school age children in the state's third- largest city.

Plus, building a new high school, with all the technological updates and related expenses, is pricey . Grassfield High School, which opened in 2007, cost roughly $65 million.

Indian River, Oscar Smith, Great Bridge and Hickory high schools have about 950 more students than they were built to hold. Portables still dot the landscape. Two schools have empty seats. No official, at least publicly, is suggesting that Chesapeake doesn't need the new school. The issue seems to be, "How soon?"

Delaying construction has some drawbacks. C osts would probably be lower if the Elbow Road site were built sooner . Board member Tom Mercer noted, in a report by Pilot writer Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer, that the eighth high school could reuse Grassfield's building plans. The longer the delay, the more likely the blueprints would be outdated.

How about redistricting? That's an often contentious process, and many parents were upset with the changes approved in 2005 to funnel students into Grassfield from surrounding high schools. It's not an exercise the School Board relishes.

For now, officials should continue a wait-and-see course on building the Elbow Road high school.

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