Friday Update: School board to reconvene next week about high school’s timeline; Hburg’s COVID-19 cases increase

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

The timeline for building the new high school remains uncertain after the Harrisonburg City Public School Board met in a special meeting on Thursday. 

The meeting, a closed session to discuss the implications of altering the board’s contract with Nielsen Builders, Inc., came after City Manager Eric Campbell asked the board to consider putting the project on hold for a year.

Andy Kohen, school board chair, told The Citizen in a text message after the meeting that “the board is considering several options but made no decision tonight because we need more information than is currently available.”

Kohen wrote that the board would meet in another closed session next week with more information from Nielsen and the board’s legal counsel. The date and time of that meeting has yet to be announced.

In a city council school board liaison meeting last week, Campbell said that, with sales, meals, and hotel tax revenue dropping due to COVID-19 — and local businesses struggling financially — he wasn’t comfortable raising the real estate tax rate in order to help cover the new school’s cost. The new school’s construction, related road work for the school’s entrance and furniture and equipment is expected to cost about $100 million. 

The rate hike was planned to keep up with debt payments for the new high school, as well as a new public works building and completion of the Eastern Raw Water Line. Altogether, the city had planned to issue bonds totaling $140 million to afford those projects. 

COVID-19 cases increase in Hburg

In the backdrop to these financial decisions, the pandemic continues to escalate in the Harrisonburg area. The city announced Thursday that there have now been 80 positive tests for COVID-19 in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.

The Virginia Department of Health informed city officials of that number on Thursday morning. As of Thursday evening, the Department of Health’s coronavirus website still showed 39 cases in Harrisonburg and 21 in Rockingham County. Director of Communications Michael Parks told The Citizen in a text message that those numbers take time to update on the website.

“When we learned of this jump we knew we needed to get out word about the seriousness of the increase, especially before a long weekend where people may be likely to gather for the holiday” heading into Easter weekend, Parks wrote.

The press release noted that “if you are outside in a group of more than 10 people and in violation of Gov. Northam’s order, you will receive a citation from the Harrisonburg Police Department.”

The city also distributed Virginia Department of Health pamphlets electronically — in English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Swahili — with additional information about spotting the symptoms of COVID-19 and how residents can best protect themselves. 

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