In this Town Talk, our publisher, Mike McCool speaks with Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis about the upcoming National Night Out. This year the event is on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, and the community throughout Front Royal/Warren County is being invited to join forces with thousands of communities nationwide for the National Night Out 2021 (NNO) crime and drug prevention event.
National Night Out, which is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) and co-sponsored locally by the Front Royal Police Department, will involve over 16,790 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities, and military bases around the world. In all, over 40 million people are expected to participate in National Night Out.
This year’s event is from 6 to 9 p.m. on August 3rd at the Town Commons (Gazebo) on East Main Street, downtown Front Royal. Local businesses, organizations, as well as, law enforcement officers from various agencies working in the Front Royal/Warren County area will be on hand to greet everyone. There will be exhibits and demonstrations centered on safety awareness, crime and drug prevention along with activities, entertainment, and refreshments for all to enjoy. Live music by Raised on Analog too.
National Night Out is designed to (1) Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; (2) Generate support for, and participation in, local anti-crime efforts; (3) Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and (4) Send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied, but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
Judge dismisses Meza appointment/’election’ challenge a second time
On Wednesday morning, September 22, counsels for Plaintiff Paul L. Aldrich and Defendants the Town of Front Royal and recently resigned councilman Jacob L. Meza, revisited oral arguments on the defendants’ Demurrer motion to dismiss the plaintiff case as not having the legal standing to proceed.
And the following afternoon Warren County Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharp issued a written ruling, upholding the defense demurrer motion to dismiss for the second time. That despite an earlier Thursday morning request from plaintiff attorney David Downes for an additional week to file supporting arguments on the aspect of immediate or preliminary injunctions for relief sought by the plaintiff, raised the previous day. Downes explained in his written request that he had not anticipated the issue of immediate relief injunctions remaining part of the arguments Wednesday, due to evolving circumstances – most prominently Meza’s resignation, effective immediately at council’s July 26 meeting – and previous rulings on the issue upholding that portion of the defense demurrer motion.
“As I write this, I am aware that Mr. Downes has filed a Motion seeking additional time to brief the de facto officer doctrine, raised by the Court. I see no reason to grant the motion. This appears to be a well-established common law doctrine, and I am confident it applies to this case. Further, the Court had previously raised this doctrine in ruling on the Demurrer to the original Complaint, yet the Plaintiff ignored that part of my opinion in his Amended Complaint,” Judge Sharp noted in denying the plaintiff counsel request for time to submit amended arguments.
Judge Sharpe quoted several past U.S. Supreme Court justices on the advised willingness judges should have to re-examine their own decisions in prefacing his own re-examination of his initial April 7 ruling in favor of the defense demurrer motion to dismiss.
“It is ‘the duty of every judge and every court to examine its own decisions … without fear, and to revise them without reluctance’,” Justice William O. Douglas quoting a judge of the New York Court of Appeals.
“Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late,” Justice Felix Frankfurter.
“I see no reason why I should be consciously wrong today because I was unconsciously wrong yesterday,” Justice Robert H. Jackson.
Of his decision to allow an amended plaintiff complaint to be filed and revisit his original ruling for the defense, Sharp wrote in late April, “Not a small part of my decision to enter the stay order, and give one last chance for oral argument, is my realization that I gave a very poor articulation of my reasons for my original decision, and I do not want to make that mistake again. It is therefore my intention to give a written explanation of my decision, whichever way it goes, in which my words are more carefully expressed.”
But in his continued analysis of arguments on the standing and substance of Plaintiff Aldrich’s filing, made as a town taxpaying citizen potentially impacted financially and otherwise by votes of an illegally appointed council member, Judge Sharp upheld his initial ruling in favor of the defense motion to dismiss. The judge addressed the changed circumstance of Meza’s resignation removing major points of relief sought by the plaintiff. “Gone is any issue of removing an ‘illegally’ installed councilman,” Sharp observed.
Of the plaintiff claim of potential damage from Meza’s appointment, Sharp wrote: “Mr. Aldrich’s second amended complaint establishes that he is a citizen and taxpayer of the Town of Front Royal. The complaint alleges several decisions of the town council in which Mr. Meza participated, resulting in expenditures. However, the complaint does not allege that any of these decisions impacted any of Mr. Aldrich’s rights. Furthermore, the complaint does not allege that Mr. Meza’ s presence on the council had a causal relationship to any of these expenditures. While he participated in the votes, including moving or seconding motions, there is no claim that the actions would not have passed but for Meza’s participation.”
Noting his previous ruling that council actions could not be voided due to Meza’s participation in votes prior to a ruling on the legality of his seating, Judge Sharp made it fairly clear a second request for an amended complaint might be a futile gesture. “As Meza is no longer subject to removal from office and his prior actions are not voidable, I do not see any potential ongoing justiciable controversy, much less impacted right of the petitioner, that would warrant permitting another Amended Complaint,” Sharp concluded.
But has the question of whether the wording of the Town Charter dating to 1937, supports the reappointment by “election” of council members within a year of their leaving office been resolved? The judge dealt with his interpretation of that core question in his written decision:
“While Mr. Aldrich’s lack of standing disposes of the case, even if he had proper standing to challenge the appointment of Mr. Meza to the council, this claim would also fail under the law. The chief phrase of the Town Charter in dispute concerns whether membership on the town council is an ‘office under the jurisdiction of the council.’ There can be no dispute that the members of the council are officers of the town, as provided under §4 of the Charter. The question, rather, is whether such officers are considered to be under the jurisdiction of the council in the context of §47.
Chapter 47 of the Town Charter was the basis of the plaintiff’s challenge of the Meza appointment. It states: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter,” the relevant Section 47 passage reads. However, the court continued to side with defense counsel arguments that other Chapters of the Town Charter applied to council appointments to fill vacancies, specifically 6D and 9.
In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, defense counsel Heather Bardot pointed to Section 6D and related wording on filling council vacancies, such as the one created by Councilman Chris Holloway’s November 2020 election to mayor. “The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,” Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointments is made here, Bardot noted. Only the court’s authority to make the appointment were council to deadlock and be unable to fill the seat within the prescribed 45 days, is acknowledged.
Meza’s appointment was made January 4, 2021, four days after Holloway relinquished his council seat to become mayor and four days after Meza, who did not run for reelection after a controversial final year in office, vacated his seat. In 2020 Meza appeared to have alienated a portion of his base related to his Valley Health employment during the previous year. Meza did not express support for the “Birth Local” movement seeking to have Valley Health include a Maternity Unit in the new Warren Memorial Hospital. And after recusing himself from previous discussion of the new hospital funding due to his employment, the councilman chose to cast a deciding vote authorizing that EDA funding on the Town side.
In oral arguments on the original complaint, plaintiff counsel Downes suggested that Chapter 47 was intended to include council seats in the one-year prohibition, not only because council members are “under the jurisdiction” of their colleagues, but also to avoid the appearance or fact of partisan political cronyism in town politics. With the four member majority that appointed him by a 4-1 vote coming from the county Republican Committee, of which he is also a member, plaintiff counsel suggested one might at least infer the appearance of political cronyism in returning Meza to office so quickly after a voluntary choice to leave that office.
However, the judge continued to side with the defense stance that the Chapter 47 one-year prohibition applied only to appointed Town staff positions.
“A comparison with the other named offices-especially those clearly under the Council’s jurisdiction-is instructive. The town treasurer, town manager, and town clerk are explicitly appointed by the council as a general rule, rather than as an exception to fill vacancies. The Council is authorized to exercise considerable oversight on them, with the ability to remove them from office and/or reassign their duties to other officers. By contrast, the council may only remove one of its own members in the case of repeated absences and exerts no other comparable oversight on its members. Furthermore, while the Charter provides that only the Council has authority to appoint the treasurer, clerk, and town manager, the Council shares its authority with the Circuit Court to appoint members to the Council when a vacancy arises. The Council can fairly be said to exercise general power over the clerk, treasurer, and town manager, but not over its own membership. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to find that membership in the Council is an office of the sort meant to be governed by §47,” Judge Sharp wrote of his stance on the matter at the heart of the citizen challenge of Meza’s appointment.
Remembrance of County’s Slave Population to join Confederate Soldier Memorial in coming week
The recently controversial, circa mid-2020, Confederate Soldier statue on the Warren County Courthouse grounds in the center of the Town of Front Royal is about to get some company. That company according to a press release issued by Coming to the Table on Thursday, September 23, will be marker flags to represent what is cited as over 1100 people – men, women and children, who were enslaved in Warren County at the outset of the Civil War.
Contacted about the display, which is slated to be placed at noon this Saturday, September 25, and remain through Saturday, October 9, Coming to the Table press contact Julie Chickery estimated as many as 350 markers could be placed representing the number of slave families in Warren County during the American Civil War. A graphic of the planned marker flags was not available with the press release; however, we will update this story with one upon their placement Saturday.
Could this be a first step toward a less divisive path concerning the continued memorializing on the Warren County Courthouse lawn of the county’s sons who fought, many who died, for the Confederacy? Perhaps, Chickery agreed of the potential of movement toward a more permanent marker acknowledging the human sacrifice of the county’s slave population. For even if not many of the families of the approximately 600 soldiers names on the Confederate Soldier statue were slaveholders as some have asserted, there were families in this county who did hold slaves, as the number of 1,149 slaves freed here after the Civil War was recorded to have been on February 27, 1866, Chickery noted.
Below is the full Coming to the Table Press Release:
WARREN COUNTY COURTHOUSE DISPLAY TO HONOR ENSLAVED MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
The local chapter of Coming to the Table is hosting a display on the Warren County Courthouse lawn to honor the more than 1,100 men, women, and children enslaved in the county at the onset of the Civil War.
Last year the county was involved in a contentious debate around an item on the ballot to relocate the confederate monument on the courthouse lawn to a more appropriate private location. One of the erroneous arguments repeated at board meetings and in letters to the editor of local news publications was the implication that slavery was not pervasive in Warren County. Historical records prove these claims to be untrue.
Co-sponsored by Northern Shenandoah Valley Unites, the display will consist of small utility marker flags that will represent the enslaved. Julie Chickery, Warren County resident and member of both Coming to the Table and Northern Shenandoah Valley Unites said, “This display is an important part of ongoing efforts to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States history of slavery.”
DATE: Saturday, September 25 – Saturday, October 9, 2021
LOCATION: Warren County Courthouse, 1 E Main Street, Front Royal, VA 2263
County moves toward restructured EDA staffing in hopes of restored municipal cooperation – 6 CUPs approved, 5 for short-term tourist rentals
At its meeting of Tuesday evening, September 21st, the Warren County Board of Supervisors made the first official move toward an altered structure of its, and the Town’s, Economic Development Authority futures. That move was unanimous 5-0 approval, on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe, of County Administrator Ed Daley’s presentation of a “Request to Create a Warren County Office of Economic Development”. As reported in our recent story, County work session takes unexpected turn on EDA front – ‘Reunited’ operational option broached, the supervisors elected to have Daley forwarded an idea originally slated for Closed Session discussion at a September 14 work session, in open session that day. That idea is to have an Economic Development Director’s staff position under the municipal government umbrella, rather than as a staff position hired by the board of an independent Economic Development Authority (EDA), albeit an EDA board appointed by the municipal government or governments that created it.
As we understand it from subsequent conversations with Daley following last week’s supervisors’ work session, that in-house EDA director’s position would work in the best interest of both the county’s municipal governments, networking what it appears at this point will continue to evolve into two unilateral Town and County EDAs. Now theoretically, both the existing WC EDA and FREDA – the Front Royal EDA that is in the interview stage of establishing a board of directors – could create their own independent Offices of Economic Development with their own executive directors. But the impetus after last Thursday’s resurrected Town-County Liaison Committee meeting appears to be to work together to select an executive director who will work to the mutual benefit of both municipalities while networking with two EDA Boards of Directors.
Confusing? Perhaps – but it would cut payment of the six-figure salary range position in half if both municipalities could agree on the concept and a person to fill that conceptual central administrative position. For with a statewide trend toward regional EDA cooperation in a highly competitive economic development environment, what future would this community’s economic development have with dueling EDAs competing, not only with other regional governments’ economic development structures but with each other’s, particularly when the WC EDA has control of significant portions of economic development properties inside the town limits?
The answer to that question has, perhaps, already been given in the pending October 1st departure of WC EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons, to a county directly to our east where as one local observed upon hearing the news, “Warrenton isn’t suing Fauquier County” (or perhaps more accurately, its EDA).
And a move toward “us and us” from “us versus them” in County-Town relations was a reoccurring theme for several supervisors involved in last week’s first Liaison Committee meeting since January. Both Board Chair Cheryl Cullers and Delores Oates commented on the positive feeling they carried out of that meeting that the deteriorated relationship featuring hostile litigation involving the Town and existing WC EDA, and canceled face-to-face meetings of elected officials on matters of mutual interest, might be turning a corner. Of course, as the third county board member at that Liaison Committee meeting, Walt Mabe, wondered during it: Why can’t we return to one, re-tooled EDA working to both the County’s and Town’s benefit, with one executive director not alleged to have had their hands in both municipalities’ economic development pockets?
And in a loosely related item, as part of the September 24th WC EDA monthly board meeting, departing Executive Director Doug Parsons’ last, the agenda includes the information that the long-awaited 2018 and 2019 EDA audits have been completed by the contracted auditing company and are awaiting EDA Board approval. Stay tuned for more developments on the auditing front. – Maybe the completed audits could even establish exactly how much of whose money went where and is owed to who by whom, negating the necessity for the continued dueling Town-WC EDA civil litigations. As previously reported, the sitting council ignored then-Mayor Gene Tewalt’s 2019 advice to accept the offer of the WC EDA to sit down with accountants rather than attorneys to follow the money to establish exactly who was owed what on the back end of the EDA’s now $62-million-dollar financial scandal.
But off that “movie script”, in other business the supervisors approved six Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests Tuesday, five for Short-Term Tourist Rentals, and one for alterations to a Kennel Permit. See all these discussions, public comments, and votes in the County video; and see the meeting agenda cover page with the full list of CUP application public hearings linked here:
UPDATE: Valley Health announces Crisis Measures in response to surging COVID-19 cases in our region
(Editor’s note: On Sept. 24, Royal Examiner receive the following clarification from Valley Health regarding implementation of the “Crisis Measures” described in their original release below: Clarification: The only procedures being temporarily postponed are at Winchester Medical Center and Warren Memorial Hospital, and are elective or non-emergency cases that will not require an inpatient stay. All patients impacted will be notified by their physician or the hospital.)
In response to an inquiry about medical staff social media reports of surging COVID-19 numbers filling regional hospital Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care Units, Royal Examiner received a press release from Valley Health on Wednesday afternoon, September 22, announcing “Crisis Measures” being implemented to deal with the pandemic surge. Read the press release in its entirety below the two social media posts that began our inquiry. And remember, as noted in the below caption, the current Coronavirus surge that has now upped the number of lives taken to 687,459 nationwide; 12,634 dead in Virginia; and 68 fatalities in Warren County, is being called “a pandemic of the unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated”.
Winchester, VA, September 22, 2021 – Valley Health is treating an increasing number of COVID-19 patients and now the health system’s resources are being stretched significantly.
“Our caregivers have worked double shifts, nights, weekends and holidays to save patients and fight COVID-19 in our community. They have shown remarkable resiliency, but they, like all of us, are growing tired. We are asking our community to pull together and help end the spread of this virus,” said Mark Nantz, President and CEO of Valley Health.
Valley Health’s six hospitals are currently treating 140 patients for COVID-19, about 85% of whom are unvaccinated. According to Iyad Sabbagh, MD, Chief Physician Executive, the most severely ill patients are unvaccinated, underscoring the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
“The data and scientific evidence overwhelmingly points to the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination,” said Dr. Sabbagh. “I implore residents to get vaccinated, continue to follow masking recommendations and consider implementing social distancing measures such as canceling events where the virus could easily spread. The Delta variant we are now confronting is more contagious than previous versions of this virus and is spreading rapidly in our community.”
According to Dr. Sabbagh, the daily count of hospitalized patients, their acuity level, and vaccination status changes quickly and makes it challenging to provide an accurate snapshot of how many community members are being treated across the system at any point in time.
“Within hours, our count can change dramatically. We are also seeing an increase in the number of patients being dishonest about their vaccination status, which makes it hard to share that data with our community,” Dr. Sabbagh said. He noted that patients fear they will not receive care if they share with staff that they are unvaccinated.
“Our job is to care for every individual who comes to us,” Sabbagh asserted. “While we want the public to know that vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID, we also want them to know that we’re here to care for them, regardless of their vaccination status. It is our mission as healthcare providers.”
Valley Health previously reported that 97% of its caregivers have either been vaccinated or been granted medical or religious exemptions. Additionally, the health system has been very successful in recruiting new staff to fill vacancies left by employees who chose not to comply with the vaccination requirement. Valley Health has seen an increase in new hires, and overall has had a net gain of staff since announcing the policy in July.
“Our challenge is not staffing due to our COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Our challenge is the sheer number of severely ill COVID-19 patients presenting for care at our hospitals,” commented Nantz.
Valley Health’s response to the patient surge includes bringing on additional resources and implementing measures to care for patients and protect staff:
Additional ICU Capacity Added
With all available ICU beds filled last Friday, WMC opened an additional unit to accommodate the number of severely ill patients needing care. As of Sunday, there were 23 COVID positive patients in the Emergency Department with limited bed availability, and all ICUs in the region were taking 24 hours or more to accept transfers.
Hospital Visiting Curtailed
Patient visitation at Valley Health’s six hospitals is being curtailed to reduce the risk of transmission between visitors, patients and caregivers. In the last several weeks, Valley Health has seen an increase in disruptive visitor behavior, including refusal to abide by masking requirements while visiting.
Visitation exceptions are being made at Winchester Medical Center for Labor and Delivery, Mother/Baby, Pediatrics and NICU, and at all facilities for special circumstances including end-of-life care, on a case-by-case basis. Visit www.valleyhealthlink.com/visitation for updates and details.
Elective and Non-Essential Surgeries Postponed
This week, all Valley Health hospitals and outpatient surgery centers will begin postponing elective and non-essential procedures and surgeries. This will not impact procedures and surgeries for patients whose condition is emergent or urgent, as determined by their physician. This decision was made after thoughtful consideration and is consistent with the guidance being provided by governmental, clinical, and regulatory organizations.
“Our top priorities are to protect our care team and all those we are caring for,” said Dr. Sabbagh. He expressed appreciation to Valley Health’s caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve been so impressed with our team’s commitment, resourcefulness and resiliency,” he said.
“We are still all in this together,” Nantz reflected. “We can help our coworkers, patients, families and friends respond safely, rationally and thoughtfully to create the best possible outcomes. We can listen to one another, be thoughtful, kind, and understand that we are dealing with this crisis together, not separately.”
Visit valleyhealthlink.com/coronavirus for updates on Valley Health visitation policies and other service adjustments.
Valley Health is a nonprofit health system serving a population of more than 500,000 in the Northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, and western Maryland. As a healthcare provider, employer, and community partner, Valley Health is committed to improving the health of the region. The system includes six hospitals, more than 60 medical practices and Urgent Care centers, outpatient rehabilitation and fitness, medical transport, long-term care, and home health. www.valleyhealthlink.com
(From a Valley Health Press Release)
Flash Flood Watch in effect here from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning
Tuesday morning the following information was distributed by the Warren County Emergency Services Department noting that the Sterling, Virginia office of the National Weather Service (NWS) has included Warren County in a Flash Flood Watch area from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning:
For your awareness, the County/Town will be under a Flash Flood Watch starting tomorrow morning. As of 10:06 AM EDT Tues. Sept. 21, 2021, the National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia has expanded the Flash Flood Watch
- to include portions of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, including the following areas: in Maryland, Central and Eastern Allegany, Extreme Western Allegany, Frederick MD, Garrett and Washington. In Virginia, Clarke, Frederick VA, Madison, Northern Fauquier, Rappahannock, Warren and Western Loudoun. In West Virginia, Berkeley, Eastern Mineral, Hampshire, Jefferson, Morgan and Western Mineral.
- From Wednesday morning through Thursday morning;
- Showers and isolated thunderstorms are expected Wednesday into Thursday morning across the watch area. Given the local enhancement of the higher terrain and a very moist air mass, widespread rainfall amounts of two to four inches are expected by Thursday morning. However, localized amounts could exceed that, especially along the ridges. Flash flooding is possible.
You should monitor later forecasts and be prepared to take action should Flash Flood Warnings be issued.
School Board updated on restroom study, construction & reno projects, amphitheater
Several projects are underway, completed, or in the design stage for facilities in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and property owned by the Warren County School Board.
For instance, all renovations at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School are now complete, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith told the School Board during its Wednesday, September 15 work session.
New windows and roller shades have been installed, and the bus loop asphalt was resurfaced prior to the beginning of the new school year. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems are now functioning as designed, said Smith, adding that Lantz Construction has received the full occupancy permit.
“A.S. Rhodes, as we know, is our smallest school,” Smith said, inviting members of the board to visit it to view all the improvements. “It’s a very beloved school, and it’s nice to see all the things done to it to make it more of a home for our students and our staff.”
Other completed projects include construction at Skyline High School of a greenhouse, which Smith said received its final building inspection from Warren County. At Skyline Middle School, the exterior painting of windows and the front entry columns for the historic part of the school are finished, as was the replacement of one set of concrete stairs and roughly 350 linear feet of sidewalk. There are also several upcoming and ongoing projects, according to Smith.
The Virginia Department of Education, for example, recently approved HVAC replacements at Blue Ridge Technical Center and HVAC replacement and renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The School Board during its September 1 regular meeting approved the $1.04 million contract for architectural and engineering services to Grimm & Parker Architecture Inc. for both facilities. The projects will be funded through grants and funds available in the WCPS capital improvement plan. The contract also includes design and engineering work for renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser.
The legal staff for WCPS is currently reviewing the draft contract for Grimm & Parker for the design of the upgrades and renovations, Smith said, noting that the goal is to have the final draft contract to Grimm & Parker this month.
Grimm & Parker was one of 11 architectural firms to submit a proposal in response to the Request for Proposal for Architectural and Engineering Services for the replacement of the HVAC systems at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC replacement and renovations to Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The scope of the renovations includes replacement of all HVAC equipment and associated systems, including acoustical suspended ceiling systems and lighting at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC upgrades and replacements, restroom upgrades to meet federal handicap compliance regulations, new ceilings, lights, paint, flooring, demising partitions between classrooms, and enhanced physical security to include a new secured entrance vestibule at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
Restroom study underway
Smith also provided School Board members with an update on a comprehensive study that’s being done throughout the school division on its restroom facilities. The study is focused on privacy enhancements for all students, as well as to ensure the school division remains in compliance with federal and state laws, he said.
The preliminary assessments of WCPS restroom facilities have been conducted at the secondary level by Smith, along with WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Alan Fox; WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay; and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, and the principals — who are part of the division’s comprehensive study team.
All available single-user facilities have been identified to enhance privacy for use by any student, said Smith, and signage for those restrooms has been ordered and will be installed soon. “It doesn’t change what we’ve done in the past,” Smith said, “but it provides an opportunity for our single-user restrooms that we may have had specified for just teachers or faculty.”
The study group also plans to further assess additional partitioning to enhance privacy for restrooms. Once preliminary information has been gathered, then the comprehensive study team will be called together for review, elaboration, and recommendations, Smith added.
Additionally, Livesay is looking into partitions for the larger restroom facilities “to increase privacy,” said Smith.
New amphitheater proposed
During the School Board’s September 15 work session, Samuels Public Library Director of Operations Eileen Grady provided members with an informational presentation on a proposed agreement to build an amphitheater that would be located on the hill between Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and Samuels Public Library.
The land lies on Ressie Jeffries property owned by the School Board. The lease agreements require the library to obtain approval from both the Warren County Board of Supervisors and the School Board for any renovations or improvements to the property. Library representatives also gave supervisors a presentation on the amphitheater during their June work session.
From a programming perspective, an outdoor amphitheater would offer many opportunities for not just the library, but also for the schools and the community, Grady explained. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be nimble,” she said. “We need to have multiple ways to approach services.”
Melody Hotek, who serves on the Library Board of Trustees and volunteers at the library, said money from the estate of her husband, Jeff Hotek, who passed away in 2018, was left to Samuels Public Library for the amphitheater. She told board members that both the Samuels Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Samuels Library Board of Directors support the project. “The vision for this is for library programs, school programs, and community programs,” Melody Hotek said. “I just think it’s going to be a tremendous asset.”
Dan Hotek, a local engineer, and Jeff Hotek’s brother would assist on the project. He provided School Board members with details on the project, including current photographs of the proposed location, possible designs, cost estimates, safety considerations, uses, and fundraising possibilities.
For instance, one design of the amphitheater shows a covered 40-by-24-feet elevated stage area at the hill’s bottom, with five tiers of rock wall seating in the hillside facing the stage. The seating is about 40 feet in length and the rows would be built about six feet apart, Dan Hotek said. There would be seating to accommodate roughly 120 adults or 180 children. Additional grass seating would be permitted around the stage and stone rows.
“If we do it right,” constructing the amphitheater “should have some draw” for tourism, as well as musical groups looking for venues to play, said Dan Hotek. “Ultimately, we need your go-ahead,” he told School Board members.
Superintendent Ballenger said the WCPS attorney will review the proposed agreement and then bring it before the Warren County School Board for action at a future meeting.
Board members already seem on board with the idea. James Wells, for instance, suggested an informal straw vote be taken as he’s ready to say yes to the project.