The first phase of a major renovation and expansion at Amherst County High School is expected to go to bid for construction this fall, according to a consultant on the $19 million project.

Josh Bower, of Charlottesville design firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, presented the latest figures and timelines on the project to the Amherst County School Board on June 9. The first phase, an 1,100-seat auditorium and commons addition estimated at $11.5 million, is targeted for construction in the fall of 2022 and expect to wrap up in 2024, he said.

The current auditorium, which has 450 seats, has been described by Amherst County Public Schools officials as outdated and in dire need of an upgrade. The new auditorium will be in the rear of the school adjacent to the two gyms and have commons area with the gym with new bathrooms, Bower said.

“This will really allow the community to safely use this space after hours and the weekends,” said Bower of the planned design. “This will be a community-friendly space. We’re trying to maximize the uses you can have.”

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The new auditorium also will have three classrooms and storage room, according to the presentation.

The second phase, estimated at $2.2 million, will include a new cafeteria and dining area with work planned in summers of 2023 and 2024 while students are out of school.

“The idea is we don’t want to have your kitchen down during the school year,” Bower said.

The third phase, estimated at $3.2 million, includes the conversion of existing cafeteria space into new learning labs for career and technical education (CTE) course offerings with work taking place in the summers of 2023 and 2024. Bower complimented the high school on its CTE program offerings.

“This project will only enhance that,” said Bower.

The final phase, planned at $2 million, is upgrades at Lancer Stadium and a fieldhouse for the softball and baseball teams, which includes concessions and a bathroom. A new parking lot also is planned as part of the overall project.

Bower said the company and division will keep an eye of costs and any changes in the construction market that could tweak figures. “We don’t want surprises,” he said of funding and doing the project in phases.

The board agreed by consensus to move forward with the plans.

Assistant Superintendent William Wells said since May 1 the division has had 48 positive cases of COVID-19 among schools’ staff and 102 positive cases among students. At one point recently Elon Elementary School came close to temporarily closing last week, he said. “We’ve been all hands on deck to make sure schools stay open. Hopefully, we’re at the end of this,” Wells said of his routine COVID-19 reports at meetings. “Just know we’re doing everything we can to keep the schools open.”

Superintendent Rob Arnold said with the Virginia General Assembly’s recent approval of a state budget, which currently is in the hands of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Amherst schools’ $63 million budget recently approved is largely in line. The division will receive less one-time construction money at $2 million rather than $2.4 million, he said, but it won’t negatively affect the schools’ operating budget. The division also plans to give $1,000 bonuses to employees possibly in December, according to Arnold’s report on the budget. “We don’t believe there needs to be any update to our local budget,” Arnold told the board.

Arnold announced Amanda Cassise is the new principal at Amherst Elementary School. Cassise has worked her entire 20-year career in Amherst schools and has held past educator roles at Pleasant View Elementary, Monelison Middle School and Amelon Elementary School, Arnold said. “It’s truly an honor to continue to serve in Amherst County,” Cassise said. “I consider myself blessed to continue to serve our students and families.”


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