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Asheville City Schools to Close Lucy Herring for 2024-25: What’s Next?

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Asheville City Schools will close Lucy Herring for 2024-25; Now what?

West Asheville elementary school to close for a year; ‘Shell-shocked,’ parents say

Sarah Honosky

HERE NEWS

ASHEVILLE – In an abrupt announcement that left some parents “shell-shocked,” a West Asheville elementary school, one of five in Asheville City Schools, will not reopen next year as it undergoes “extensive renovations.” Instead, students will be relocated to the district’s other elementary schools for the 2024-25 school year.

The announcement came at a March 5 “parent team” meeting held at Lucy S. Herring Elementary, one of the district’s five magnet elementary schools with a focus on the natural environment. It serves 257 students. For most attendees, it was the first they were hearing of the impending relocation of their kids. A flyer advertising the event mentioned nothing of a school closure.

Blindsided Parents

The 5:30 p.m. meeting coincided with Super Tuesday primary elections. “We felt totally blindsided by the presentation,” said Thomas Lodwick, parent to a Lucy Herring kindergartener. His family walks her to and from the school every day. When they moved to the neighborhood in 2020, its proximity was part of the draw. “Our lives are built around that school,” he said. Of the meeting, parents were “shocked and devastated.”

“Aghast.” People wondered: Why now? Why the urgency? James Rogers, a parent of a second-grader at Lucy Herring, called it a “communication debacle.” The less-than-a-day following has been a mess, he said: students “freaking out,” teachers crying in hallways. “The school is just melting down today.”

“At this point, I think the faith in the city has eroded through these kind of missteps, these constant mistakes,” he said. “And it seems that most of that relates back to communication issues.”

‘Everyone is reeling’

Some parents fear the temporary closure will become permanent. For others, they worry that any delays in construction could push relocation longer and longer. At the March 5 parent meeting, which was recorded and posted to YouTube by the Lucy S. Herring Parent Team, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said that Lucy Herring “is going to remain a school.”

“We are not planning on dissolving Lucy Herring, at this point,” she said. “We know we want to bring our students back to Lucy Herring.”

“We know this timing is awful. There’s no pretty way to say it. I wish we would have known this information sooner than later,” she said, adding that an updated “scope and sequence” for construction was only found out two weeks ago.

Financial Crisis

The decision, and abrupt announcement, comes on the heels of Asheville Primary School’s closure two years prior, and in the midst of ongoing reconfiguration conversations, as the district considers the potential consolidation of Montford North Star Academy.

Meanwhile, less than a mile away, in the same West Asheville neighborhood, a beloved community pool in Malvern Hills Park has been closed for the summer as it struggles with needed repairs.

“To have these two core community institutions, that serve all these people, that serve the public, just be pulled out from under us in a matter of weeks or months … it’s just really upsetting and distressing,” Lodwick said.

The district is facing a $4.5 million budget shortfall, in part due to a steady enrollment decline and the expiration of federal relief funds. Brooke Heaton, an ACS district parent, said to step back and look at the full picture, plus the pool’s closure, felt like a “gut punch.” If Montford North Star Academy were to be combined with Asheville Middle School, and in the wake of Asheville Primary, “we will, potentially, have closed three schools in short succession, which is incredibly destabilizing to a district that is already suffering an enrollment crisis, that is (in turn) fueling a financial crisis.”

Rogers’ son’s time in the district began at Asheville Primary School, but his first year was disrupted by COVID, and later by closure of the school itself. Now, they’re facing another untimely school closure. “From our perspective, for our son, we’re looking for a stable place to land,“ Rogers said. Especially after the impacts from the pandemic, there’s a sense of continual “chaos.” “Everyone is reeling,” he said.

What’s the plan for construction?

Construction is scheduled to start in mid-June and estimated to be completed fall 2025, the district said in a March 6 news release. “Through our construction planning process, it became evident the renovations needed are more extensive than we anticipated,” said Superintendent Maggie Fehrman in the release. “The scope of the project is going to have a more significant impact than originally planned on how our students can utilize the building and the outdoor play areas.

Careful planning has gone into how to accomplish these construction updates and accommodate students in the safest and most conducive learning environment possible.” The more-than-40-year-old building needs renovations including: upgrades to heating and cooling systems, new bathrooms, all new mechanical systems, a new ceiling and roof, all new windows, kitchen upgrades, and a three-tiered security vestibule.

In November, as part of its consent agenda, Buncombe County commissioners approved a $7.9 million contract with Vannoy Construction for the Lucy Herring renovations, to begin during summer break. The project was approved previously by the School Capital Fund Commission and Board of Commissioners.

As a capital commission project, which Fehrman said would total $8.2 million, the major source of revenue for the fund is from the Article 39 sales tax. A portion of the tax is allocated for local school capital projects, such as new buildings and repairs, under a 1983 state law. Upgrades will impact the playground area, gym, and cafeteria.

In addition, said the release, teachers would have to move their classrooms three times in the span of one school year, specialists will be displaced from their classrooms, and the media center will not be accessible for half of the school year.

“The decision has been made to relocate the students at Lucy S. Herring to our other four elementary schools for the 2024-25 school year due to the potential noise disruptions and to avoid potential health hazards for our students and staff,” said Fehrman. “This decision was made in collaboration with school and district leadership and with great consideration for what is in the best interest of everyone in the building.”

To make the transition “as smooth as possible,” said the ACS release, the district is scheduling times for Lucy Herring parents to tour the other four elementary schools to help families make a well-informed decision for next school year. The other elementary schools are: North Asheville’s Claxton and Ira B. Jones, West Asheville’s Hall Fletcher and Isaac Dickson, on the edge of downtown and Montford. The district will prioritize that siblings are placed in the same school.

They are also working with the school’s staff to determine which school they would like to move to for the 2024-2025 school year.

‘A lot of fear’

But for some parents, like Della Pope, who has children at Lucy Herring and Montford North Star Academy, one of whom is a rising high schooler, it’s been overwhelming. They’re new to the district, and following the stressors of COVID, “a lot of us were just getting our feet under us.”

The pandemic closures “still impact us, and so I think the suddenness of this feels like that a little bit, yet we didn’t hear that it’s an emergency. It’s more of just, this is happening and there’s no discussion around it,” she said.

“There’s a lot of fear,” Pope said, and that comes from a feeling that there’s a lack of transparency.” “These kids aren’t widgets. Our lives aren’t things that you can just reshuffle around,” Lodwick said. “We build our lives around these institutions, and they need to treat it as such. At least give us time to adapt if it really is necessary.”

More:

Asheville schools consider potential middle school reconfiguration among $4.5M shortfall

Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email shonosky@citizentimes.com or message on Twitter at @slhonosky. Please support local, daily journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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HERE Asheville
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