Construction begins on new high school in Louisa County - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Construction begins on new high school in Louisa County


Wednesday, Louisa County broke ground on its new high school, just days before the two-year anniversary of a major earthquake that destroyed the old building.  

Across town, construction carries on at the future home of Thomas Jefferson Elementary. The students who belong in the buildings have been in trailers, and sharing spaces with other schools, for two years now.

"We'll have some more space for everything, and it'll be bigger, and we'll have thicker walls so we can just hear the people in our class," said Carter Knight, a 4th grader at Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Right now, she shares a cafeteria with students from Trivilians Elementary next door.

Earthquake drills, once unthought of here, are now the new normal.

"We get down on the floor and cover our heads," said Carter's brother, 1st grader Kayden Knight. The only Thomas Jefferson he's ever known has been a trailer school.

But through it all, broken classrooms to trailer classrooms, they've made it to another school year.

"When I think about it, I come around to we're still in two mobile schools - mobile facilities, but our students and staff have not missed a step," said Superintendent Deborah Pettit.

As if those weren't enough challenges, school leaders are also jumping through financial hurdles to get the job done, working through figures with FEMA, VDEM, and insurance to pay for upgrades.

"We are still in negotiations with the insurance company," said Greg Strickland, Chairman of the School Board. "We are still in negotiations with FEMA. FEMA is a grant process, so it is a repayment, which means its an obligation with the county."

"Our cash flow is flowing to a point," added Pettit. "So it's all not settled yet with the funding. But the two boards made the decision to move ahead with these buildings. I think the funds will work themselves out."

The repairs and new construction total about $75 million. To put that in perspective, the day before the earthquake hit, the School Board had a meeting, and there they decided they might need to put an expansion on the high school. They thought that would be their last big construction project for about ten years.

Fast forward just two years, and they now need to rebuild two schools and reinforce several others. Just imagine what that does to a school budget.

The funding isn't officially all sorted out, but the County did use bonds to get the work started, essentially taking a leap of faith that it would all work, and trusting that getting students back to the classroom was the right thing to do.

"It is still a difficult time for us," said Strickland. "And we'll get through it, but it will take perseverance to get there."

That's something time has shown, this community has. If all goes according to plan, and the funding works out the new Thomas Jefferson elementary will open in August and the new high school will open its doors in 2015.

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