Colonial Beach officials have come a step closer to a relocating 280 elementary students who were displaced by a Jan. 5 fire that left their school in a collapse zone.
During a joint meeting Monday night, Colonial Beach Town Council put forward a memorandum of understanding to the School Board that would initiate a loan for the school to begin relocation from Oak Grove Baptist Church, where students have had class since mid-January.
If the memorandum is approved by the School Board, the schools will be able meet a March 1 deadline to begin planning for new classrooms for the elementary students on the town’s current high school campus.
Although an initial $25,000 loan will help start relocation in time for classes to start in September, another $1.2 million will still be needed to complete upgrades and repairs at the planned consolidated school campus.
Town Manager Val J. Foulds presented information about a Virginia Municipal League/Virginia Associations of Counties loan, which Colonial Beach officials considered even before the devastating fire at the town’s former high school near the elementary school buildings.
“We submitted all the documentation as if you were doing a loan,” Foulds told the School Board members. “The work and the analysis has been done. It was not a trivial process. If the green light was given, [a VML/VACo official] believed we could have the funds closing in six weeks.”
School Board Chairman Tim Trivett said insurance proceeds from the fire, which could be used to repay the loan, have been delayed. The proposed memorandum states that the town will cut the school’s budget by $448,000—the cost of relocation—if the board does not repay the loan.
“We know what the policy is worth and what the policy is for, but as far as what they’re actually going to give us, we have no clue,” Trivett said. “I did have a conversation with the [insurance company] administrator there last week, and they’ve assured us that things are going to start to move a little bit quicker.”
Town Attorney Andrea G. Erard said, “There’s a state law section about school boards borrowing money and I included in this the maximum amount of time up to a year. My thought was that hopefully within a year your insurance company will reimburse you, right?”
Trivett answered, “Logically thinking, you would believe that would occur. But what I’ve seen so far, you just don’t know, you can’t speculate on that. It’s a pretty scary decision to make if [insurance proceeds are] the only way that the money could be paid back.”
Erard opposed making an initial loan until the town could be certain of terms of repayment. “I’m very uncomfortable with us advancing funds to the school without us knowing that those funds are going to come from somewhere.”
Mayor Mike Ham suggested they consider an option first proposed last September when the school was discussing how to deal with school growth. He said the School Board could pay off the loan by turning over unused school property to the town.
“If, in fact, the insurance money is sufficient, that would be great,” Ham said. “You could keep the property that you have now. The alternative … was turning some property over to us to try to sell or to develop.”
Trivett said, “I think it’s commendable that we’ve been able to come together … to try to come to a resolution. I think this school division is going to be a lot better for it in the end.”
Since the fire, many donations have come to help with immediate needs. Donors include the owner of the Baltimore Ravens and Ravens wide receiver and Colonial Beach native Torrey Smith.
“We probably are way over $40,000 just in cash donations toward supplies,” Trivett said.