By Jordan Cohen
VIENNA — With the closing of Neal Middle School, a certainty at the conclusion of the current school year, the Mathews board of education has decided to replace the building by adding trailers and moving the sixth grade to Baker Elementary.
Neal, which is nearly 90 years old, has deteriorated rapidly, and a state inspector said one of two boilers in the building is unsafe, according to Superintendent Lee Seiple.
The building currently houses more than 200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
The superintendent offered the board four options to consider including the use of classrooms at several nearby churches and realigning some of the grades in the other elementary buildings. Several board members and some of the building principals voiced concerns that some of the options would create such issues as adequate restrooms, administrative staffing and kitchen availability.
Under the option the board accepted, two or three classroom trailers would be purchased and placed in the proximity of the high school.
“It costs $80,000 for new trailers and $20,000 to install, but I’m hoping we can find some used ones for $24,000 each,” Seiple said.
“I don’t see any other viable option,” said Ken Wallace, board president.
One possibility not on the superintendent’s option list was resubmission of a bond issue for new school construction. A $22.5 million issue was soundly defeated in last November’s election, and Seiple said previously he did not detect any interest from board members in resubmitting it so soon to the voters.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted to submit its five-year operating levy for a reduced amount of 7.8 mills in the May 4 election. The issue replaces the previous levy of 7.9 mills.
Mathews faces other costs related to the Neal closing. Seiple said the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the district to install a new septic system for the high school, especially since classroom trailers will be added to the site.
“We got a delay because of the bond issue, but the EPA is not going to let us go any longer,” the superintendent said.
None of the speakers suggested keeping Neal open.
“It’s a foregone conclusion it will have to be closed,” said George Garrett, Neal principal.
Board members said they expect to have other special meetings and work sessions due to the number of issues that remain to be resolved, such as zoning, sanitation and staffing.