Thoroughgood parents want safer option for kids during construction of new school

Plans call for putting Thoroughgood Elementary students in 43 trailers behind nearby Hermitage Elementary School.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A plan to house 700 elementary school students in portable classrooms for two years brought about 20 parents to the Virginia Beach School Board meeting Tuesday night.

The controversial placement of Thoroughgood Elementary students during the two-year construction of a new school wasn’t on the agenda, but a fiery conversation lasted more than three hours.

“What’s a brand new school if we are only putting our students and staff in an unsafe situation?” asked one parent.

More than 430 people have signed an online petition opposing the plan to put 43 trailers behind nearby Hermitage Elementary School. The district says some of Hermitage’s resources, including the cafeteria, would be shared.

Parents expressed concern about the “village” being uncovered when students use the bathroom and switch classes. An increased potential for an intruder and traffic from busy Northampton Boulevard were among the other concerns.

“I cringe to think how I will so clearly see these portable units from the road along with the hundreds of other drivers down the highway,” said one parent.

Board members Victoria Manning and Carolyn Weems both expressed concern about a lack of public input from the beginning.

“We should have been having this conversation months and months and months ago,” said Weems.

Tony Arnold, facilities engineer, admits the district could have done a better job communicating about the use of portable classrooms. Arnold says the plan “is not ideal,” but it is the best alternative.

For security, the district plans to hire two security guards and install extra cameras around the units.

Still, parents argued Tuesday the proposed security is not enough to ensure students will be safe at all times.

At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence told the school board he would “huddle with his staff” and come back in about two to three weeks with specific alternatives to the portable village.

Arnold says one alternative to keep students in the old Thoroughgood Elementary during construction of the new building next door would cost $2 million, as opposed to $800,000 for the portables, and students would not be able to participate in any activities outdoors.

By a show of hands, a majority of the school board agreed not to disrupt the Bayside Sixth Grade Campus on Jericho Road to accommodate the Thoroughgood students.