First of two stories
Traffic stacks up on Waterloo Street as buses, cars, minivans and trucks vie for Warrenton Middle School’s only entrance.
The 7 a.m. traffic jam represents but one challenge for the aging school, as community leaders ponder its future.
Fauquier’s oldest public school, built 80 years ago, also has heating/cooling, plumbing and electrical issues.
But, it has many virtues, according to those who work there every day.
Major upgrades or replacement would cost tens of millions of dollars. The estimates range from about $23 million for renovation to about $50 million for construction of a new school. Working with consultants, a committee will make its recommendations for Warrenton and Taylor Middle to the school board by early next year.
FauquierNow reporters recently spent a day in each building to observe and to talk with those who work in the county’s two oldest schools. This report provides an overview of Warrenton Middle School.
While the brick building with huge Palladian windows facing Waterloo Street has charming aspects, its guts need major repair.
“Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (are) generally beyond useful life or in need of repair,” consulting architects wrote in a 2015 evaluation.
Maintenance workers visit Warrenton Middle about three times per week to service the 35-year-old heating and cooling units in classrooms, according to school system Facilities Director Greg Livesay.
“These units are labor-intensive to maintain and it’s a struggle to provide a comfortable environment for the students and staff,” Mr. Livesay says.
The maintenance department purchases parts from the manufacturer, he says, but “some are out of production and no longer available. In addition, the refrigerant these units take . . . is no longer produced and they have to purchase reclaimed/recycled (coolant) which is very expensive.”
A first-time visitor faces a maze of hallways and 19 stair steps before reaching the main office.
After communicating with the school staff via security camera and intercom, visitors enter the building’s rear and follow small signs along a hallway to reach the office.
Principal Barbara Bannister calls the entrance to the school, out of view from the office or parking lot, “horrible.”
“I think it’s a problem when people have to buzz into the building so far from the front office,” art teacher Marisa Pappas says.
Although the school has an elevator and ramps for access access to most of the building, students can reach the cafeteria and music rooms only by climbing seven steps — a challenge for those with physical disabilities.
The oldest part of the school, built in 1936, houses the main office, library, auditorium and sixth-grade classrooms.
Seventh- and eighth-graders have classes in separate wings, built in 1981.
“It’s not all boxy,” says Kay White, a science teacher for 24 years at Warrenton Middle. “There are ins and outs, nooks and crannies.
“It wasn’t made for offices; it was made for kids to talk and walk and learn,” Ms. White adds.
Head Custodian Thomas Hise and four others clean hallways and rooms and repair lockers, toilets and other equipment.
“You can dust mop and come back 25 minutes later and there’s a cobweb,” Mr. Hise says.
Even with all the repairs needed, the head custodian says he wouldn’t want Warrenton Middle demolished.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he says. “There’s too much character in it. It reminds me of the school I went to.”
Sixth-grade instructional assistant Jennifer Ragle says, “Yeah, we have a mildew smell, but it’s not that bad. If they would fix the central air, we would be good.”
Ms. Ragle describes the building as “nice, clean, functional and pretty.”
Art teacher Pappas likes the school’s small classes — averaging about 15 for the subjects she teaches.
“The good thing about that is you can work with kids,” Ms. Pappas says. “It’s easier to give them individual instruction when needed.
“I think the building has a lot of character and charm,” she adds. “It’s nice having a separate area where kids can say the gym is the gym and the cafeteria is the cafeteria, as opposed to having it in one place.”
The cafeteria buzzes with seventh-graders during first lunch at 10:10 a.m.
Each grade splits into two lunch groups of about 70 students for a relaxed atmosphere in the cafeteria.
“I like the space here,” Kitchen Manager Diane Turner says. “There’s a lot of room to work. The pantry is a really good size.”
But, the kitchen lacks a dishwasher.
About 170 students who purchase lunch at the school each day use disposable foam trays, plastic containers or compostable paper trays.
All schools except Warrenton and Taylor Middle use washable trays, according to school Nutrition Program Director April Plummer.
Light pours into the library through four Palladian windows.
Students relax or read books on donated couches around the room.
“I think the kids like coming to the library because it’s comfortable,” Library Assistant Jeanette Smith says. “You can fit a lot of kids in here.”
A small room off the library contains the faculty printer, which takes up more than half the space.
Business teacher Cathy Medlock has helped organize school plays at Warrenton Middle for 17 years.
“We do huge productions, and it’s because we have such a great stage,” Ms. Medlock says.
The school has a talent show in the fall and a big spring production each year.
Proceeds from the play last year purchased new stage lighting.
Other schools and community members also use the Warrenton Middle auditorium, for events such as the 5th Congressional District candidates’ forum last month.
Ms. Medlock says Warrenton Middle School could use a “facelift,” but “I don’t think there is anything a renovation couldn’t take care of. This is such a workable building.”
Instructional Technology Resource teacher Tina Ference agrees.
“It’s not your standard cookie cutter building,” Ms. Ference says. “The library with the big windows and its rare to have an auditorium . . . . They are so valuable.”
Ms. Bannister says, “I was here during the earthquake, and there’s no other building I would have rather been in. This is an old, sturdy building.”
The principal says she will support whatever the school board decides about the future of Warrenton Middle but hopes the building won’t get torn down.
“I want what’s best for the kids,” Ms. Bannister says. “We have to be able to meet (student) needs . . . but I’m not sure (the building) will in 10 years.”