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Bristol School Board tours possible new elementary sites, parents raise concerns

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BRISTOL, Va. - Bristol, Virginia school board members boarded a bus and took a field trip Saturday to look at sites for a new elementary school.

The board wanted to narrow down the 13 possible sites and hear input from people in the city. School board members hope to consolidate the four current elementary schools into just two.

Superintendent Keith Perrigan, who led the tour, said he wanted to start receiving input as early as possible.

" Anytime that you start closing schools, it's a very emotional situation," Perrigan said. "Anytime you start building a new school in a particular area, it can also be emotional. So right from the very beginning of this, we want to be very transparent."

Some parents raised concerns. Ginger Fleenor, who has a son in elementary school, pointed out more than one site she opposed.

"Some places that they had chosen were good," Fleenor said. "Some, on the other hand, I'm totally against."

Fleenor says she doesn't want to see a school put into a residential area.

"I personally wouldn't like it, because I moved into a neighborhood where it was peaceful and quiet, and I don't want a bunch of buses running up and down," Fleenor said.

In spite of the concerns, Perrigan said now is the time to build. Three of the city's schools are more than 50 years old.

" Even though they're not currently at their end of life, they're very close to being at their end of life, " Perrigan said.

Perrigan believes closing the older schools would save the city money, which would then be used to pay for the new school. But even with savings, the new school could cost anywhere from $15 million to $20 million. With the city heavily in debt, the school district will have to look to a private group to assume the financial risk.

"Our city does not have the capacity to take on any additional debt," Perrigan said. "The beauty of doing a private-public partnership is that the private entity that would get involved with this program would take on the financial... the debt that goes along with that."

The superintendent also said that there will be fewer employment positions once the schools are consolidated, but he hopes to avoid making teaching cuts.

"We don't anticipate cutting any positions," Perrigan said. "What we anticipate is we would absorb those through attrition. You know, every year we have teachers who retire, every year we have teachers who go to other school divisions, and our hope is that between now and the time that the new school would open, we could have enough attrition."

The school board will discuss the possible sites at its December 4th meeting. After members narrow down the possibilities, they will hold public hearings at each of the four elementary schools.

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