By Stefanie Jackson – Sen. Lynwood Lewis, of the Virginia General Assembly, toured Northampton High School on Tuesday for a firsthand look at the challenges presented by the building’s declining physical condition as Superintendent Eddie Lawrence described the upgrades and additions that will be needed to meet students’ future educational needs.
The tour began in the lobby, where high schoolers pour in through a set of double doors on the left and middle schoolers enter through the doors on the right every morning.
The high school students have shared their space with the middle school students since after Northampton Middle School in Machipongo closed.
Major renovations at Northampton High School will begin next summer. In a future renovation phase, Lawrence wants the distance shortened from the school’s front entrance to the main office, where visitors could be granted or denied access to the rest of the school.
He seeks to address parent concerns that an active intruder could enter the lobby and get easy access to students in the hallways and classrooms.
Straight ahead on the right is the middle school hall. It’s a small space to fit what’s basically an entire school. The 8th grade occupies just four classrooms, Lawrence said.
With little distinction between the middle school hall and the rest of the school, the middle schoolers lack a sense of identity and are just “not themselves,” said school board member Maxine Rasmussen.
During a later phase of the building improvement project, a new addition will be built beyond that hall, where the middle school will get its own space with a separate entrance and the Northampton Middle School Golden Bulls will get a brand-new chance to shine.
The new addition will also allow the sixth grade to join the seventh and eighth grades at the middle school. Lawrence is confident the middle school will become fully accredited after the change is made.
The addition will include a new cafeteria to replace the one located in the original 1954 section of the school that will be demolished after the addition is built.
Walking down the school’s central hallway and crossing from the 1978 section to the 1954 section, the change in the building’s condition is clearly visible, from the water stains on the ceiling to the cracks in the floor.
But after entering the cafeteria, Lewis noted it was “well kept” for its age, a compliment to Director of Operations Chris Truckner, who oversees the maintenance of all Northampton school buildings and their equipment.
The tour circled back around to the 1978 section and crossed the lobby, ending in the gym. Lawrence hopes plans to renovate the gym will come sooner rather than later, because if the repairs are delayed another five to 10 years, the gym won’t be worth saving, he said.
Lewis said obtaining funding to renovate old schools and build new schools isn’t just a challenge in low-income, rural areas – it’s a problem across the commonwealth.
He acknowledged that Virginia has underfunded its public schools and is now struggling to catch up.
The school board looks forward to the upcoming renovations at Northampton High School, and Rasmussen indicated to Lewis that she hopes the improvements will help to remove the “negative connotations” that an increasing number of parents associate with public schools.