New school to replace three coming to forefront in Bristol, Virginia


Replacing three old schools with one big new elementary may be in the works for Bristol, Virginia. School leaders are working on a plan for a new $15-to-$20 million dollar school that wouldn't require the city to borrow money.

Investment in The Falls has the city at its $100 million debt limit, unable to borrow to build a new school to replace three of four very aging elementary schools. Only Van Pelt Elementary, in its 42 year, is considered viable long term. And there are mounting concerns with the others, Stonewall Jackson, Washington-Lee and Highland View Elementary, according to Superintendent Keith Perrigan.

"The electrical and the plumbing are not up to date," he said. "We've got asbestos management that we have to take care of. There's moisture issues. Washington-Lee is not ADA compliant."

Ester Wilson has had two daughters go through Washington-Lee. She's been thrilled with their teachers and academic success, but not with the building and grounds.

"The building is just so old, rundown," she said. "Not being handicapped accessible is one of the main things. I have a handicapped brother. I kept thinking about him coming and visiting. There would be no way."

The superintendent has been busy on a possible solution to build a new school under a public-private partnership with a special constructor. It's a relatively new process used to build more than 100 new schools in Virginia. And essential for Bristol, it opens the door for a pay-back method that won't require borrowing.

"Really it streamlines the procurement process and opens up new avenues that wouldn't be available going through the normal financing procedures," Perrigan says.

He hopes to present possible construction and financing partners to City Council next month.

A top issue yet to be decided is where a new school would be built.

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