Residents relish in new Blacksburg High School amenities
BLACKSBURG — Was the investment worth it?
Residents from across Montgomery County converged Sunday during a dedication ceremony of the newly constructed Blacksburg High School to take a peek at the expansive campus and to try to decide.
After all, they’re pouring out additional real estate tax dollars — 12 cents more per $100 of assessed value — to help pay for the $63 million building.
“I knew it would be nice,” said Juanita Waller-Trott, a longtime town resident who supported the high school’s construction.
“I don’t mind spending to have education for the children. They have enough of everything here that they should be able to do anything.”
Others said it would take time, perhaps after the next round of state test scores, to glean the return on investment.
That fact is not lost on school and county officials. They lauded the results of three years’ worth of often‑contentious debates and praised those involved with getting the school erected so quickly.
“This is a building built by the Blacksburg community,” said Wendell Jones, chairman of the Montgomery County School Board.
“This is an investment in your community, an investment in your students and teachers and an investment in the future of Montgomery County.”
He and other county officials spoke with similar sentiment during the half-hour ceremony.
The campus on Prices Fork Road, open since Sept. 4, has 45 classrooms, 15 labs, 86 teaching spaces and four special education classrooms, according to school system figures. It also boasts numerous ball fields, tennis courts and a cross-country track. Bright, modern shades of green, orange, greige and purple adorn the walls.
The building replaces the high school on Patrick Henry Drive. In February 2010, that school’s gymnasium roof — which had construction woes since its opening — collapsed under the weight of snow and faulty trusses.
The destruction led the school system to shutter the building and displace students from both Blacksburg Middle School and Blacksburg High School. High school students were sent to Blacksburg Middle School along Prices Fork Road while BMS students were bussed to Christiansburg to the town’s former middle school.
What followed was a series of long meetings about whether to attempt repairing the school or constructing a new building on land the school board already owned. All the while, ire was raised regarding the condition of other school buildings across the county.
In July 2011, the county agreed to a $124 million plan to replace BHS and Auburn High School in Riner and also to renovate Auburn Middle School.
Superintendent Brenda Blackburn, who led the charge for the new schools shortly into her tenure, was unable to attend the dedication because of a family emergency.
The school is “a tribute to the citizens of the entire Montgomery County community,” she said Sunday in prepared remarks read for her.
Many seemed to appreciate it.
“Wow,” and “I’m getting my workout” were audible during the tour of the three-story complex.
The 291,000-square-foot building is decidedly larger than its predecessor. It has the initial capacity to hold 1,400 students, but just more than 1,100 are enrolled this semester. If needed, the school could be built out to house 1,800.
The building’s main entrance, flanked by administrative offices, opens into the school’s second floor. The floor also includes the library and facing guidance offices, the open cafeteria, common areas and a bevy of classrooms lined in adjacent hallways. On the opposite end of the same floor, but down a flight of stairs, is the gym entrance and an arts wing. A mini gallery of paintings and sculptures was on display leading to the band room.
The lower level comprises mostly Career and Technical Education classrooms such as the school’s student-run salon, horticulture labs and a stainless-steel outfitted kitchen for Family and Consumer Sciences.
The third level, accessible by elevator and stairs, has a photography lab, classrooms and department chair offices.
Large windows bathe the main corridors — and many classrooms — in light, something incoming students and teachers welcomed. Many classes have views of Price Mountain, courtyards and rolling hills to the west.
“Look at that view,” said chemistry teacher Katharine Davis. She also was pleased with the configuration in her class — a decision made by each of the departments. Round lab tables with individual sinks facilitate better lab exercises, she said.
Students can work together outside the classroom, too. Common lounge areas dot the facility.
These collaborative areas filled with cushioned chairs “are nice places to hang out in and study,” said senior Garrett Skinner, a member of the school’s first graduating class.
The building also offers numerous teacher workrooms and offices for school administrators on each of the floors.
The new building comes with advances in technology, as well.
Electronic shades on the windows, speakers in classrooms so teachers can save their voices, iPads, modern overhead projectors and more are amenities instructors are just beginning to feel out.
“This high school turned out to be more than we could ever ask for,” said Jacob Reynolds, the school’s senior class president. “This is a place we can call home.”
A similar dedication ceremony and open house is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday at Auburn High School in Riner.
– By Anna Mallory, Special to The Burgs