DOBSON — Plans for work at three grade schools are coming closer to being finalized, as an update before the county board revealed Monday night.
Surry County Schools will overhaul Mountain Park, Dobson and Franklin elementary schools as part of Phase I of a three-part process to upgrade the 18-campus district.
Dr. Travis Reeves, county school superintendent, appeared before the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
He explained that architects from Walter Robbs, a 53-year-old Winston-Salem firm, have met with school officials such as himself, the three principals, nutrition directors, exception children directors and pre-K directors to learn about the many needs at the schools, which have some of the oldest buildings in the district.
Franklin Elementary is the by far the biggest grade school in the district. According to a Facility Needs Survey submitted to the school board three years ago, Franklin had average daily attendance of 551, well ahead of Pilot Mountain Elementary at 423 and Dobson Elementary at 380.
The facility survey says Franklin’s two-story building was finished in 1952. The primary building followed in 1957 and the gym in 1962.
The gym floor has a concrete base that is undulating and will have to be graded down and completely started over, he said. The gym also will get new windows.
The ‘52 two-story building will get new classroom windows and a new roof. The building will get an elevator to be more handicap-accessible.
The ‘57 primary building will be gutted inside with new windows, roof, HVAC system, and asbestos abatement if necessary for the floor and ceiling work.
Reeves said there are 12 classrooms in one building, but that will drop to 11 because they will need more room to expand the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms to meet current regulations.
Among new work is an addition to the cafeteria so that there can be restrooms added so that kids don’t have to leave the building to use the bathroom, he said. The kitchen also will get more cooler space.
When all the work is done, Franklin will have two empty classrooms, but those will be filled over the next couple of years as the K-2 classes are spread out to meet new state requirements for smaller class sizes, he said. Then the school will be 100-percent filled.
All three elementary schools have had an office building constructed in the past 27 years, and all are considered in good condition. Still, work is needed to make the entrances more secure, Reeves said.
The grade schools have buzz-in doors so that any suspicious person can be kept from entering. However, Reeves noted that once someone gets in the door he or she has full access to the lobby and any kids in the area.
It would be better to create a small vestibule that funnels visitors to the office first to be vetted before they could be free to walk the halls, he said.
Mountain Park has 178 students and some of the oldest school buildings in the district.
The media/arts building was built in 1947, the classroom building in 1951 and the cafeteria in 1957. The gym came along in 1968.
The Facility Needs Survey listed the media building as being in poor condition. Reeves said that because of age and issues, the architects recommend tearing down the building and creating a new one.
The gym needs new flooring, and there could be some asbestos abatement necessary. It will also get new heating and lighting.
The school has five mobile homes that are used because of crowding. One is owned by the schools, and the other four are leased, costing thousands of dollars a year, Reeves pointed out.
A new building will go between the gym and the office building that will have enough classroom space to eliminate the need for trailers as well as give space for two EC rooms and a music/art classroom.
Where the trailers are removed is where the playground can be relocated. Right now the playground is across the street, so children have to cross a roadway.
One early plan was to tear down the 1957 cafeteria building, but the architects have a plan to build an addition to the back and renovate instead. An enclosed walkway will stretch from the gym to the cafeteria so that kids won’t be walking outdoors — which is both nice for the weather conditions, but also safer because children can’t wander off and any potential danger won’t reach them from the outside.
Reeves said he wishes something like that could be done at Franklin, but that school is bigger and the campus more spread out so it is cost-prohibitive.
Dobson Elementary holds a challenge in that the property slopes away, making expansion difficult, explained Reeves.
Like Mountain Park’s media/arts center, the fine arts building in Dobson was graded in poor condition in the survey. The plan is to tear down the structure built in 1950 (housing mostly fourth and fifth grades) and come back with a two-story building.
The cafeteria and classroom areas were part of the 1954 construction, with the gym built in 1963. All were listed as being in fair condition in the 2015 survey.
The gym will be renovated with new lockers and floors, said Reeves. There will be major renovations in this school.
Dobson is in a negative situation with classrooms, he said.
He explained that when stricter classroom sizes are phased in over the next three summers, Dobson doesn’t have any room to expand like it needs to comply.
“Currently at Dobson there are no empty classrooms,” he said, and it will take at least two just to satisfy the requirements of House Bill 90.
That doesn’t take into consideration any possible growth in school population.
Does the school board foresee any growth, asked Commissioner Eddie Harris.
During the past two budget cycles, Reeves has petitioned for an increase in the per-pupil funding rate, saying that enrollment has declined each year.
On Monday Reeves said that while some rural areas are seeing drops in numbers, the three town schools are not. He explained that Dobson, Pilot Mountain and Franklin (Mount Airy) schools are the biggest in the district and are not losing enrollment. He guessed that some folks were migrating from rural areas into municipalities to partake of their amenities.
He pointed out that there is a new 60-unit apartment complex under construction in the Franklin district, and this is the kind of thing that could have an impact on school numbers.
Harris asked where that was located, and Commissioner Larry Johnson said it was off Franklin Road near Odell’s Sandwich Shop.
With class sizes being regulated by state law, the district has no choice but to comply, Reeves added.
The superintendent did not give any time frame on when the projects might be ready to put out for bids.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.