By Debbie Adams
“William Byrd High School has a proud history in the Roanoke Valley as one of the original large public high schools opened in the 1930s,” said Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely. “The current building built in 1969 has had a couple of additions to keep pace with growing enrollment, but the project we are undertaking now is a true, comprehensive renovation of the entire school to bring it up to modern standards. Principal Tammy Newcomb and our district staff have been highly involved in working with our design and construction partners from Avis and Hughes Associates to launch the project and see it through. The project is on schedule and, when completed, will give our students and community a facility to match Terrier pride and support innovative learning.”
Dr. Nicely was one of the guests for an update tour of the ongoing renovations at William Byrd High School, which began in earnest in the spring and summer of 2021, and will be completed in the summer of 2023, hopefully in time for the opening of the 2023-2024 school year.
Dr. Nicely, School Board Chair David Linden and member Cheryl Facciani accompanied WBHS Principal Tammy Newcomb, Assistant Principal Travis Anderson and representatives from General Contractor Avis Construction, Hughes Associates Architects & Engineers, the Ascent Engineering Group, the RCPS Director of Facilities and Operations Chris Lowe and Assistant Director Harley Grimes on a progress tour on February 16.
Guests were also invited to sit in on the bi-weekly contractors and architects meeting for an update on the project, led by Project Manager Laura Bradford and Avis Job Superintendent Brian Dodson.
During the meeting, Earle Shumate from Hughes Associates Architects & Engineers, who designed the project, said that the philosophy of the company was to make the Vinton school “look and feel like a new school without building a new school; to make the Byrd facility more cohesive, modern, and up-to-date—to look like a school that was built all at the same time.”
“It is exciting to see the wonderful progress being made on the William Byrd High School renovation project,” said Linden. “I’m confident the students at William Byrd will be excited about the additions and the welcoming feel these updates and renovations will bring. Avis Construction and Hughes Associates have combined to create a beautiful look to the school, and it will be something I think the residents of Vinton, Bonsack and Mount Pleasant will be very proud of. We look forward to opening up a portion of the building beginning next school year and are pleased to be on schedule to have it completed by August 2023.”
The renovation project will include the school’s first and second floors and will entail over 100,000 square feet of renovations and roughly 13,500 square feet of additions. While the footprint of the school isn’t changing, classrooms and other instructional areas are being enlarged.
Renovations will include science labs, the band room, weight room, media center, guidance offices, library, the main gym, and front lobby. The dim auditorium will have improved lighting and sound systems. The guidance offices and media center will be swapping places.
Additions will include a choir room (there is not one currently at the school) and art rooms, wrestling, a front entrance portico, new toilets in the cafeteria and major renovations throughout the classrooms and hallways.
The budget for the WBHS Renovation project is $30.7 million including a Reserve Contingency Fund of $800,000.
The discussion at the February 16 update meeting focused on different phases of the project, not all necessarily glamourous or exciting, but the items that will make the renovation project successful.
The first item on the agenda that day was completion of the restrooms in the cafeteria area. The cafeteria was beautifully renovated in a past project, but modern restrooms have now been added—converted from an area of unused serving lines.
Restroom locks and doors were the topic of discussion. Stripping and waxing floors in hallways and classrooms prior to moving furniture and students back into English, math, and special needs sections in the Phase 1 area of the building received a lot of attention.
Principal Newcomb and her various staff teams are paying meticulous attention to detail in the entire project. Newcomb says she knows where the problems are that need to be addressed because of her familiarity with the building—she is a graduate of William Byrd herself.
Newcomb is giving a great deal of thought on how to preserve the sports trophy, jerseys, and photo displays now located on the walls and in display cases in the front entrance area of the building—the “Hall of Fame,” given its importance to the community.
There was talk of the new and very substantial wooden doors installed throughout the building, the paint scheme and finishes, HVAC and return air sensors, along with all new windows to allow in the light throughout the building. The update meeting also included the dreaded talk of “supply chain issues” which have plagued most construction sites in the past year. Steel has been a top issue with the Byrd project but is set for delivery in the immediate future.
The contractors assured Newcomb that they were doing their best to schedule deliveries at a time which would not impact students arriving at or departing from school. Newcomb noted that there has been no disruption or interruption of classes during the construction/renovation process thus far.
Classrooms in Phase 1 of the renovations are near completion upstairs and down, which will allow most students now taking classes in the “learning cottages” installed in the rear parking lot, to return to those classes inside the building. Other classes in other subject areas will be moving to the cottages as the focus turns to classrooms in other areas of the facility.
The renovated areas of the school will be re-opening in phases over the next 18 months until renovations are complete.
Attention has also turned to an enlarged weight room, along with dedicated wrestling and cheer practice facilities in the next phase of construction/renovations.
Plans are to accomplish “a tremendous amount of work this summer” while students are not in the building. Administrators and contractors are determined to maintain Internet connections and power during the summer months, especially since nearby William Byrd Middle School will be a summer school site.
To keep track of the progress of the project, visit https://www.rcps.us/Page/4736 on the William Byrd High School website.