Anatomy of a school construction project

“People think they’re going to have to react to a plan, but you have to let them know they’re going to make the plan,” he said. “That’s unique. That’s something you don’t see all over the country, and that made the process as successful as it was. Even if people aren’t totally happy with the way things are going, they had input and they knew the plans were coming from them and not from the central office. That, I think, was key.”

The pains of redistricting

Glen Allen High School’s design process went smoothly, HCPS officials agreed, but like any school system that dedicates years to accommodating projected population booms, Henrico planners had to move students from the county’s other high schools to bring those schools back to capacity while filling their brand-new building.

Redistricting will always be contentious and fraught with community outcry, Blumenthal said, but maintaining a transparent approach helps avoid long-standing tension between neighborhoods and the school division.

In 2007, HCPS received thousands of eMails from parents and local residents weighing in on the various redistricting scenarios.

Henrico residents applied to serve on committees that would review when, how, and why students from the other eight high schools would be moved to Glen Allen when it opened in fall 2010.

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Seventy-five people were chosen to serve on three redistricting committees. The final plans for redistricting were submitted 10 months after the committees were formed.

“That was the most important part of our community involvement,” Blumenthal said.

Russo, the county superintendent, said inter-community squabbles and tense exchanges with school system administrators are par for the course in redistricting talks, which can be lengthy and sometimes dominated by lobbying on behalf of neighborhoods or existing schools.

“It’s a situation where you sort of cringe and hope it doesn’t happen,” Russo said, “but when this many people are involved in a project of this size and magnitude, at the end of the day, it’s bound to happen.”

Effects of a lagging economy

Securing funding for school construction and renovation isn’t nearly as easy as it was in the heady days of the early and mid-2000s, HCPS officials said. That could mean schools will have to operate over capacity for a few years, but administrators were confident that sustained openness and honesty with voters would lead to school additions and new buildings over the next decade.

Denny Carter

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