FRONT ROYAL — Warren County School Board members on Wednesday started to get their ducks in a row regarding the forthcoming selection process for the next school district leader to replace current Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Greg Drescher, 59, who announced his retirement plans earlier this month.
“We need to have a discussion about how we want this process to go,” said School Board Chairwoman Catherine Bower during the work session portion of the School Board’s September 18th meeting.
“We have two new board members coming on in January and I think it’s probably not in our best interest to go ahead and start the search now,” Bower said. “We probably ought to think about appointing an interim superintendent and begin the search in January when the new board comes on so that they have a say in the process.”
In addition to Drescher retiring at the end of the year, terms are up at year’s end for School Board members Donna McEathron, who represents the South River District, and Vice Chairman Douglas Rosen, who represents the Shenandoah District. Neither are running for re-election in November.
North River District School Board Member Arnold Williams Jr. is running for re-election in November; his term ends on December 31.
Each of the five School Board members serve four-year terms. Terms for both Bower, who represents the Fork District, and for James Wells, who represents the Happy Creek District, end on December 31, 2021.
Bower suggested that members set a March 2020 deadline to hire a new superintendent. Wells, Rosen, and Williams agreed that was a good idea. McEathron gave no input.
More discussions about the superintendent search will be had, the chairwoman added.
Drescher on September 6 released a statement announcing his retirement, effective January 1, 2020. He has clocked 37 years in education, the last five years as the WCPS superintendent.
At the same time, Drescher has been on the fringes of the local Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal, finding himself included in mounting public criticism as one of the primary public officials who could have prevented the alleged fraud and embezzlement. He’s been simultaneously holding the superintendent’s position for WCPS and sitting on the EDA Board of Directors — serving as chairman in 2017-18 when years of suspected EDA wrongdoing started to unfold.
Nevertheless, Drescher denied any related burnout factor.
“This is totally about my wife — this has been on the horizon for a while,” Drescher told the Royal Examiner on Sept. 7, referring to the health challenges faced by his wife, Debbie Drescher, also a former educator.
“The stage that she is in now is accelerating my retirement plans so that we can enjoy more time together,” according to his statement. “While certainly not the exact path I would be choosing, it is the right thing to do and I have no doubt will be best for all concerned.”
In another work session item, WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay provided School Board members with a cost estimate for modular classrooms that would be placed at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School while renovations are completed this school year.
“We need modular units to create that swing space, or empty space, to provide the contractor more space to work within the school,” said Livesay.
He passed out a cost estimate from Charlotte, N.C.-based Mobile Modular Management Corp., which would deliver, set up, and install decks and ramps for four 24-by-34 modular classroom units at the school for just over $46,000. The company also would remove the units for an additional $29,000, according to the estimate.
The monthly rental of each modular unit for 18 months would run another $49,920 total; the electrical would cost roughly $15,000; and the poured footers for each unit — if required by the County — would tack on another $17,550, bringing the estimated total price tag to more than $157,000.
Livesay said the modular units would be located on the pad outside the school’s gymnasium, which inside would serve as temporary space for another four or five classrooms.
“That’ll free up about 75 percent of the building for the general contractor to be able to do his work throughout the school year,” said Livesay.
Regarding the general contractor bids for the A.S. Rhodes renovations, Livesay said the original bid due date, which was September 19, has been extended one week to next Thursday, September 26. He’s given several companies a tour of the school building to explain the scope of the work and said he will provide more tours this week.
“It appears we’ve generated more interest this time with this pre-bid,” he said.
School Board members also held a closed meeting to discuss, consider or interview “prospective candidates for employment; assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining or resignation of employees of the School Board, specifically two employee personnel issues,” according to the agenda. WCPS Director of Personnel George “Buck” Smith also attended the closed session.
No announcements were made following the closed session.
To view the entire discussion of these and other meeting topics, watch the Royal Examiner video:
Update on train derailment: ‘hazardous material’ cars removed from scene
Early Friday evening Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico responded to Royal Examiner’s inquiry on details of the train derailment in the Linden area of eastern Warren County that morning. Maiatico said that “proper authorities”, likely as in a national and/or state transportation oversight agency, would conduct the accident investigation, so declined to theorize on a cause of the derailment.
Royal Examiner is awaiting a response from Norfolk Southern Railroad on a request for additional information on the accident investigation and cleanup of the scene.
As for the number of involved railcars, the county fire marshal explained, “The train consisted of five locomotives and 44 railcars. The five locomotives carry a large quantity of fuel and various other fluids that can be potentially hazardous when released. The fuel tanks and other containers holding liquids in the locomotives remained intact and did not rupture in the derailment.”
As can be seen in Royal Examiner’s exclusive video of the accident scene, while derailed the five-unit train engine complex remained upright.
“Of the 14 cars that left the track, all but two were empty. The two with cargo consisted of a wood and plastic product,” Maiatico added.
As to the “limited hazardous materials” reported to have been carried by railcars not involved in the derailment, Maiatico said, “Several cars that remained on the track behind the 14 derailed cars were transporting various materials meeting the classification of hazardous. These cars have been removed from the area by disconnecting and transporting away on the unaffected track.”
We will continue to update this story as additional information becomes available through investigative agencies and Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Victory Garden Update
About two weeks ago, volunteers from our community planted the first Victory Garden here in Front Royal. Our publisher Mike McCool stopped by the garden Saturday, May 30, 2020 to check on the progress. He spoke with Fern Vasquez one of the organizers of the Victory Garden.
The volunteers have formed an organization called CHEO. It stands for Citizens Helping Each Other. Click here to reach their Facebook page.
CHEO is looking for volunteers to water and weed in the garden. You must have a signed waiver on file to volunteer in the garden. Waiver forms are available at Fussell Florists or by e-mailing CHEOcommunitygarden@gmail.com.
Community gardens help everyone of all ages to come together, participate, contribute, and get a sense of pride in helping one another. CHEO (Citizens Helping Each Other) Front Royal is a group of citizens, working with the support of the County leadership, to help our neighbors in need and promote unity in our community. 2020 sees the launch of the Pandemic Victory Garden Program. CHEO is not a program of local government. CHEO is an alliance of private citizens and community service groups.
See the first story on our Community Victory Garden.
Sheriff’s Office adds to train derailment information; Route 55 could be closed various times over the weekend
A Warren County Sheriff’s Office Press Release on the Linden train derailment was distributed from the County Administration Office at 12:19 p.m. Friday. That release presented some seemingly contradictory information on the number of train cars being pulled by the involved five-locomotive engine apparatus. The sheriff’s office release cited 12 cars, as opposed to the 50 mentioned, with 14 leaving the tracks, in an “Incident Report” posted earlier on the Warren County Fire & Rescue Facebook page.
Calls to the Sheriff’s Office and Fire & Rescue to attempt to clarify the discrepancy prior to publication were unsuccessful.
Sheriff Butler asks that drivers consider using an alternate route instead of Route 55 toward Linden. Watch for detours and stopped traffic in that area.
Here is the WCSO release in its entirety:
“An inter-agency response that included members from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Warren County Fire & Rescue, Virginia State Police (VSP), and Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSR) occurred on Friday, May 29, 2020 at approximately 8:52 AM due to a train derailment.
“The train consisted of five locomotives and twelve cars, mostly empty at the time of the incident. No fire or explosion occurred, no hazardous materials were involved, and no injuries were reported. The cause of the incident is undetermined at this time; however, it is under investigation by the VSP and NSR.
“As of 10:15 AM, the derailment did not affect vehicular traffic on major County roads or the interstate. The only affected area consisted of four small roadways in proximity to the incident. These roads are Pickrell Drive, Keyser Wood Lane, Winona Drive, and Red Barn Lane. There are approximately ten residences in that area, all have been notified by the Warren County 911 Center by use of the reverse 911 System and RAVE alert system.
“The time for reopening of all roadways is estimated to be between 08:00 and 10:00 PM this evening. Updates to follow if this time changes.”
See Royal Examiner’s on-site video of the derailed train scene with a related story:
LFCC virtual commencement scheduled for Saturday, June 6
LFCC will celebrate its graduates at 1 p.m., Saturday, June 6, with a virtual commencement ceremony. The ceremony will feature the national anthem, remarks from President Kim Blosser, a student speaker, student awards and the conferring of degrees.
LFCC student Rebecca Hoffman will perform the national anthem, which will be followed by remarks from President Blosser and the presentation of the Outstanding Graduate Awards for the Fauquier Campus and the Middletown Campus. A faculty member from each campus will also address the Class of 2020.
Nursing graduate Shannon Weisbrodt is the student commencement speaker. She is also the mother of our 2018 commencement speaker, Morgan Ryan, who is a 2020 graduate of Mary Washington University.
Graduates’ names will scroll across the screen, and throughout the video, photos of those who submitted them will be shown. The college provided free mortarboards and tassels to all those students who RSVP’d to attend the virtual graduation ceremony.
LFC has never had a commencement ceremony like this one before, President Blosser noted.
“The saddest announcement I’ve had to make over the past few months was that we wouldn’t be able to gather together in person to celebrate the most special college event of all – commencement,” she said. “But, despite the physical restrictions, all of us at LFCC have worked hard to create a meaningful way to commemorate your hard work and accomplishments. We hope our graduates will gather together with their loved ones – in person or remotely – to watch the ceremony together. While we won’t be together in person for a traditional commencement ceremony, please know that all the faculty, staff, and your fellow students, are celebrating your accomplishments and wishing you the best.”
The Class of 2020 consists of nearly 1,300 students. Below is the number of graduates per service region:
- Clarke County, 47
- Fauquier County, 188
- Frederick County, 321
- Page County, 85
- Rappahannock County, 24
- Shenandoah County, 160
- Warren County, 146
- City of Winchester, 164
- Other, 161
The ceremony will go live at 1 p.m., Saturday, June 6 at www.lfcc.edu/commencement. A recording of the ceremony will also be available on the site for future viewing.
LFCC is also naming two professors emeriti for all they have done to serve the college and its students:
- Frost McLaughlin, professor of English from 1997-2019
- Ernest “Ernie” Grisdale, professor of chemistry from 1988-2019
Nursing graduates will have a virtual pinning ceremony that will go live on the site at 1 p.m., Sunday, June 7.
No injuries or immediate threat determined from Linden train derailment
Just prior to 9 a.m., Friday morning, May 29, Warren County Fire & Rescue responded to a report of a train derailment in the 4000 block of John Marshall Highway/Route 55 East of Front Royal in the Linden area of Warren County. A notice of the incident was posted shortly after 10 a.m. on the county fire & rescue Facebook page.
County Emergency Services reported no injuries or public health threat from the derailed cars. According to the department’s initial “Incident Notice”, first responders found all five locomotives and 14 of 50 rail cars being pulled, derailed. However, traffic in the area was not impacted.
And while it was reported that some “limited hazardous materials” were part of the Norfolk Southern train’s cargo, none of the cars containing that material were among those that derailed. First responders also determined that none of the “limited hazardous materials” had leaked from their tanks on the still upright rail cars.
So, it was determined there was no immediate public health threat from the derailment.
Both the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police, as well as Norfolk Southern Railroad personnel were assisting at the scene. Those units were awaiting the arrival of additional Norfolk Southern personnel to begin the cleanup.
Additional information on the cause of the derailment, what the “limited hazardous materials” were, and the cleanup process will be reported as it becomes available.
Royal Examiner Videographer Mark Williams went to the scene around 11 a.m. and took this exclusive video footage:
Fire & Rescue Incident Notice
Following is the entirety of the original Warren County Fire & Rescue “Incident Notice” posted on the department’s Facebook page shortly after 10 a.m.
“The Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, and Norfolk Southern Railroad are currently operating on the scene of a train derailment in the area of the 4000 blocks of John Marshall Highway. There is currently no threat or danger to the community.
“At 8:57 AM, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to a reported train derailment in the 4000 blocks of John Marshall Highway. Units arrived on the scene to discover 5 locomotives pulling approximately 50 rail cars. Five locomotives and 14 cars left the track and derailed, leaving the remaining cars on the track.
“Fire and Rescue personnel were able to determine that no injuries occurred. While the train was hauling limited hazardous materials, no hazardous materials cars derailed or product leaked from their tanks.
“Units are currently awaiting the response of Norfolk Southern Railroad to begin the cleanup process.
“Citizens are urged to stay clear of the area, no traffic is effected at this time.”
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 28, 2020; Phase 2 could start June 5th
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:
The Governor said that earliest the state could enter Phase Two would be Friday, June 5. Phase Two would look like this: stay at home for vulnerable populations, no social gatherings of more than 50 individuals, continued social distancing, continued teleworking, face coverings in public, and further easing business limitations.
He also mentioned the requirement to wear face masks starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.
Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.
Here’s the latest briefing: