During the chilled, pre-dawn Monday morning hours, demolition crews began tearing down the historic 1938 portion of what once was Louisa County High School.
“Like many people in the community, I’ve been trying to prepare myself for this,” Dr. Deborah Pettit, school superintendent, said. “But it’s difficult.”
Construction of the iconic structure began in 1938 and the school opened in 1940, after Apple Grove, Louisa and Mineral high schools consolidated. It was also used as a middle school and most recently, the 9th grade wing of the high school.
The high school expanded with additions in 1958, 1972, 1983 and 2000, but damage from the August 2011 earthquake forced school officials to shut the high school’s doors after engineers deemed the building unsafe. The 1938 structure was one of the most severely damaged portions of the school.
The school division is in the process of demolishing the high school complex to make way for a new structure.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pettit said of the demolition. “I keep telling myself that it’s what we need to do for the future.”
Greg Strickland, Louisa County School Board chairman, said the building, which has been a fixture in the county for decades, will be missed by many in the community.
“But at the same time, I’m glad to see that we’re moving forward to bring Louisa County Public Schools back to, yet again, a new normal of having buildings for all of our schools,” Strickland said.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School was also severely damaged in the earthquake and students were relocated to modular classrooms at the Trevilians Elementary School site. The old TJES building has been demolished and a ground-breaking ceremony for a new structure, based on the Moss-Nuckols Elementary School design,has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.
For Louisa County High School students, the recovery has been challenging and included sharing space with the middle school on an alternating-day schedule when classes resumed in early September 2011. And on Feb. 1, 2012, high school students began attending classes at a modular campus located in the high school’s parking lot.
But Louisa County High School Principal Tom Smith said students and staff have handled the challenges and the demolition exceptionally well.
“We have a great student body and staff who have been fabulous through the entire process,” he said. “They’ve adapted and supported each other through this, and we’re looking forward to the day when we get inside our new building.”
Strickland said the demolition of the high school is expected to be completed in late-October or early-November, adding that most of the work near the modular high school complex has taken place during the evening and early-morning hours and on weekends to help ensure students’ safety.
While the demolition process is underway, local and school officials continue to make strides in the recovery process. The Louisa County Board of Supervisors and School Board recently awarded a $2.2 million architectural contract to Grimm & Parker Architects for the design of a new high school, which has an estimated $43 million price tag.
The new structure is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2015 school year. Construction will be funded by a combination of insurance proceeds and federal, state and local monies.
School officials are in the process of scheduling several design meetings with architects and possibly students from the high school’s Computer-aided Design program.
Teacher Steve Raileanu and his CAD students recently presented the school board with their design for a new high school and Pettit said a meeting with architects from Grimm & Parker would make for an excellent learning experience.
“I was so impressed with the students and what they had done,” Pettit said. “They had some great ideas. I hope they get to meet with the architects.”
While the demolition of the school, especially the historic 1938 structure, is difficult for some in the community to witness, the school’s legacy will live on through the Louisa County Historical Society, which was able to document the history of the school in the past several years, and school officials said they will incorporate some aspects of the building into the new high school.
The school division is also planning a brick giveaway/donation event through the Louisa Education Foundation, which held a similar event for TJES.