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Hanover considers school consolidation; graduates of historic school fight to keep its name

John Gandy Elementary School.
John Gandy Elementary School.
Updated: Nov. 27, 2018 at 11:22 PM EST
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HANOVER, VA (WWBT) - A battle is brewing in Hanover County regarding the future of a historic school first built for black students during segregation.

Gandy Elementary School opened in 1950. Today it still stands as a school for all students. Even the school district’s central office is housed on that same property.

Now, the district is considering consolidating Gandy Elementary with Clay Elementary School due to aging conditions.

"You walk in the building and you think about when you were in school,” Gloria Arnold said.

Standing in those halls on Tuesday, it’s like a walk down memory lane for many graduates like Arnold.

"All the teachers here were serious about you learning. All the blacks in Hanover county came to this school,” she said.

Gandy Elementary - named after former Virginia State University President John M. Gandy - opened in 1950. For the first time, black students in the county had a school with central heating and indoor plumbing.

Now graduates are doing more than reminiscing - she’s fighting and so are her former classmates.

"It comes from black history … I tell my grandkids about it. I bring them to see it,” said Sandra Howard.

At Clay, school leaders site ongoing water leaks, deteriorating floors and even a kitchen that sometimes malfunctions as a reason for the change.

"We were considering contingency plans in terms of preparing meals at another school and bringing them in,” Assistant Superintendent Terry Stone recalled about a recent episode.

School leaders say merging the schools would allow them to build a new site with a 70-year lifespan, as opposed to renovating the schools which would only lead to an additional 25-year lifespan.

Many say while they don’t mind the upgrades, there are other concerns.

"If the school needs upgrading or changing, I’m all for change but you don’t have to lose the name because you’re making improvements,” Howard added.

Those who attended Gandy want to make sure the potentially new merged school keeps the name. The push comes months after the district decided not to rename Hanover Schools named after confederate leaders.

"That’s why we want John M. Gandy to stay John M. Gandy. It’s the only thing we’ve ever had,” Arnold said.

The proposed school wouldn’t open until 2024 at the earliest and a vote on making it happen won’t take place until next year.

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