Friday, June 11, 2010

Emotions ran high on vote to close Huff Lane School

Sad faces tell the story - Virginia Moser, Shea Hewitt (10), Shuna Hewitt

School board members Jason Bingham and Todd Putney were absent from Thursday night’s public input meeting on closing Huff Lane Intermediate School. Chairman David Carson, Lori Vaught, Suzanne Moore, Mae Huff and outgoing member Courtney Penn voted to close it. The public meeting was held in the James Breckinridge Middle school cafeteria.

Council member Anita Price, a counselor at Round Hill (Montessori) was visibly upset by the proceedings. She said that Huff Lane teachers and personnel must immediately start moving their material to Round Hill on unpaid time. Price wondered where they were going to put their things. There is no room at Round Hill.

Just as parents, students and teachers were getting used to the idea of Round Hill being the school to close the tables turned to Huff Lane. Curt Baker Deputy Superintendent explained that the recent discovery of an underground septic system would require a lengthy land disturbance permit process. There was just not enough time before the start of the next school year to get it done.

Savings with closing Huff Lane would be $420,000 this year and $582,000 in subsequent years.

Also justifying the switch Superintendent Rita Bishop said Round Hill has a new roof where Huff Lane needed extensive electrical and plumbing updates. One option no one liked was closing both schools and enlarging Preston Park Primary school to accommodate students from both schools.

The explanations did not satisfy Shuna Hewitt. “The kids have been shuffled around enough,” said Hewitt. She is the mother of Shea 10, a fourth grader at Huff Lane. Hewitt said Shea would be moving for the fourth time since starting 2nd grade at Preston Park. She then went to Oakland for 3rd grade, Huff Lane for 4th grade and now to Round Hill for 5th grade. Not only that said Hewitt, “then she has to go to middle school and that’s a whole new group of friends … let them graduate with the people they started out with.”

Virginia Moser a teacher’s aid at Huff Lane for 15 years said when she first heard of the closing, “she was first shocked then hurt.” She was angry at the city for being “more interested in money then schools.”

Sid Bush, President of Dorchester Neighborhood Watch and David Campbell, President of Grandview Neighborhood Watch voiced their concern on Valley View extending into their neighborhoods. The neighborhood had already fought off Valley View Mall through traffic.

Ray McKee, who lives on Dorchester Avenue still woozy from surgery Thursday said, “he was frightened and alarmed that there is even the hint that Huff Lane school and/or the park would be sold since it had been proffered and given to the citizens.” He feared the land would meet the same fate as the land now occupied by Valley View Mall.

The property once owned by Peter C. Huff who granted the property to then Roanoke County in 1949 for a school and park is assessed by the city at $2.5 million. Atwood Huff, his great-nephew told the school board Thursday that Peter Huff sold the acreage to then Roanoke County specifically for a school that they named after him. Atwood Huff asked them to, “keep Huff Lane school open for Uncle Pete.”

In addition to their vote to close Huff Lane the School Board confirmed the addition of two modular units for Round Hill to accommodate the overflow of students. Over 450 students will fill Round Hill as it becomes a K-5 school. Chairman Carson made a point to attendees that consolidation to K-5 schools has been part of the plan for several years.

There is no change in attendance zones with the closing of Huff Lane and preschool will be spread out to other schools. As Courtney Penn explained preschool is not held to attendance zones so any school can be used for that purpose. Superintendent Rita Bishop reiterated the negotiations with a church to lease space for preschool use.

Carson very firmly admonished the media for “irresponsible and unfairly sensationalistic headlines on what we’re doing and more importantly what we’re not doing.” Thursday’s discussion was strictly on the closing of Huff Lane. Use or sale of the property “will take place at a later time,” said Carson.

Huff Lane, Carson admitted was more marketable but any sale of the property would be “acceptable to or address the concerns of all in conjunction with the neighborhood, city and the school system.”


Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Education, Roanoke City Public Schools

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