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The Roanoke Rapids Graded School District today received the go-ahead to apply for a Needs-Based Public School Grant application for a new Pre-K school that if approved would be constructed on the campus of Manning Elementary.

Halifax County commissioners unanimously approved the request made by RRGSD Superintendent Juliana Thompson with the admonishment from board Chair Vernon Bryant that the system would “have to put skin in the game” when it came to a matching grant.

Thompson told the board the school system did not get funded for the project last year.

In a letter to state Superintendent Catherine Pruitt, Thompson wrote that the current Pre-K school is located at the 88-year-old Clara Hearne School and has already exceeded its “realistic life cycle” by almost 20 years. “Naturally, it is experiencing many age-related maintenance and repair concerns including asbestos, floor joist issues, water intrusion, and heating and cooling inefficiencies.”

There are also safety concerns including all classrooms having exterior doors, no fire suppression system, and no bus loop. “This building also does not meet the current code, nor space requirements for this program,” she said in the letter. “It can only support 165 students which is about half of the population of students who are domiciled in the district.”

Thompson said that based on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Cost and Feasibility Report, renovation of the current building is not practical. “For many years we have dreamed of building a new pre-kindergarten center that will serve all district students on the campus of Manning Elementary School and we believe that our dream can be achieved through the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.”

In working with Halifax County and NCDPI staff, Thompson said the school system learned “that our chances for being selected for the grant will improve greatly if we document the readiness of the school building project for construction.”

Partnering with county staff and Smith Sinnett Architecture — the architects of the Manning project — the school system has completed advanced planning. “At a projected cost of almost $20 million, the new building will be a state-of-the-art facility for all students in the next generation and provide improved air quality, lighting, toilet facilities, energy efficiency and will almost double the square footage in each classroom.”

Thompson wrote that the new facility will have a student capacity of 285 with 20 large classrooms, a large multi-purpose space, a secure outdoor courtyard and secure building access.

Vice Chair Linda Brewer made the motion to move forward on the application with a second cast by Sammy Webb.