Harrisonburg City Council votes 3-2 to build new high school all at once


Maya Waid

Community members who supported Plan A stand in City Council chambers following the vote to determine the plan for the new high school.

The decision came down to Mayor Deanna Reed’s vote. After Vice Mayor Sal Romero and Councilman Christopher Jones voted in favor of the division’s new high school being built all at once and opening in 2022, Councilman Richard Baugh and Councilman George Hirschmann voted against it, Reed sealed the deal at the Harrisonburg City Council meeting Dec.10 and confirmed that the new high school would be built in one phase and slated top open for the 2022-2023 school year.

In 2011 the City of Harrisonburg was aware of the projected growth rates and how that would affect the high school someday. In 2014, City Council shut down any discussions of building a new high school. Five years later, on Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019, city council voted in favor of building the new school. 

Diverse groups of community members attended the meeting to attempt to persuade the council one way or another. Groups of teachers from HHS, as well as Skyline Middle and Thomas Harrison Middle School, sat alongside other HCPS administrators. Parents of children in the school system and concerned citizens also gathered in City Hall to be present when the council would make their decision. 

One group that made their presence well-known was the group supporting “Plan A,” the original plan that would build the school all at once. Among the group of supporters was co-founder of “ForHHS2” Cathy Copeland. 

“I have been doing some of the writing to make sure we present ourselves in a clear and concise manner and that we are able to figure out and disseminate the information. It can sometimes by complex for everyone, so it is important we make it accessible and clear,” Copeland said. 

Copeland has been involved with the group for a while now and has many reasons why she is pro-plan A in regards to building the new high school. 

“I was very interested in the second high school; I have two young children who will eventually reach high school. However, what I was really interested in was that city-wide we reached [a resolution],” Copeland said. “It is not just about my kids, it is about everyone’s kids and making sure that they have a safe, equitable environment to enjoy learning and to enjoy the fantastic teachers that we have. Those are all reasons I want to expand and build the second high school.”

Similar to Copeland, the other co-founder of the group, Adrienne Hooker, became involved in the cause in October, 2017 when she realized how big of an effect this would have on the community. Just like Copeland, Hooker also has children in the school system who will be affected by the decision. 

“I chose to join this group because I was already going to City Council for redistricting purposes, and they were starting to talk about the high school overcrowding. As a parent I realized that [there] is something more important than the redistricting. I started staying and watching and paying attention and realized that this was a no brainer. I can’t believe two years later we are still trying to fight this fight. It has been needed since 2011 and is way overdue,” Hooker said. 

Prior to the meeting, anyone who wished to speak was asked to sign up. A line quickly formed as 35 people put their name down to speak in front of the council. One by one concerned citizens spoke within the five minute limit given by the council in order to keep the public hearing efficient. 

Those who spoke against the new high school consisted mainly of those living on a fixed income. Although the number was significantly smaller than those who spoke for plan A, there were a few people who pushed for the new high school to be built according to plan B, which called for the main school building to be constructed for the 2022 school year and facilities later.

While the majority of people supported either plan A or B, there were three people who spoke at the meeting who supported a different plan that had been shot down by city council already: annexing the current high school. However, since land has been acquired on South Main Street, this plan was the least likely to gain traction at the meeting.

With the vote, the Harrisonburg’s debt capacity for the school will be $104.8 million and the guaranteed maximum construction price will be $87.2 million. All of the facilities for the school will be completed at once with the execution of plan A. Nielsen Builders Inc. is expected to break ground on the new school Monday in order to open in August of 2022. 

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