Statement at the 7-10-18 Public Hearing on Land Acquisition

In order to promote conversation and encourage our elected officials, local concerned citizens formed ForHHS2, which means the Future of Rocktown is a second Harrisonburg High School (HHS2). On behalf of ForHHS2, I am happy City Council is moving forward with the land acquisition. Building a second high school is the best option for Harrisonburg considering our current overcrowding and expected growth within our city school district. We are excited Council is moving forward on purchasing the land, and we look forward to city residents being involved in the process of envisioning Harrisonburg as a two high school community.

Our group will continue to post information about the land acquisition and plans for the high school. We would like City Council to move forward quickly to relieve the current overcrowding. By 2022, more than half the high school population (800 students) will be educated in trailers outside the current facility. The need is very real; continual progress is necessary to maintain the high standard of education within our city. We encourage citizens to connect with ForHHS2 and to get involved in the planning process with school board. City Council members: we hope you approve the land acquisition, and work with school board to fully fund a second high school as soon as possible.

Where we’re at…

Update: On Tuesday, December 5th, the School Board unanimously voted to go with the design presented by the architecture firm of Grimm + Parker ( The design (which was not shown to the public yet) costs $76 million to be opened for the 2021-2022 school year. The design does not include a stadium. The piece of land was not announced.

The Next Step: City Council needs to approve it. The School Board will present their proposal next Tuesday, December 12th. City Council needs to be convinced to act NOW. If they don’t act now, the entire project could be delayed for a year.

How Can I Help? PLEASE show up at the Dec. 12th City Council meeting (7 p.m. Council Chambers). Also, contact us for FOR HHS2 swag (buttons, shirts, and yard signs), so that we physically demonstrate commitment to a second high school. Also, e-mail CC members to let them hear your voices:

Mayor Deanna Reed
Vice Mayor Richard Baugh
Council Member Christopher B. Jones
Council Member Ted Byrd
Council Member George Hirschmann

and submit an ecomment on the agenda item.

Moving from one high school to two…can it be done?

Cathy Copeland’s speech to City Council on 11/28, in response to worried that moving from 1 high school to 2 would be difficult to do for our community. Short answer—it isn’t, but we need to move forward now rather than letting tensions continue to build.

Splitting into two high schools can be done. It does require hard work and dedication. It also requires that the town support the new high school and that mixed messages (the old will they/won’t they deal) eliminated.

In my examination, I concentrated on two high school districts. In Indiana, Hamilton Southeastern School District (Fishers, IN as the main city) had a massive population growth (10% every year since the mid-1990s). They built a $90 million high school in 2006; the growth still hasn’t slowed, and they are currently considering a third high school. Hamilton SE doesn’t have the same size restrictions to the city that Harrisonburg has; they are also one of the wealthiest suburbs of Indianapolis. So it has a different composition than Harrisonburg. But, in the mid-1990s, when the population started to grow drastically, they established the HSE Foundation, an initiative to have continuous money sources for the schools. The Foundation works to find and earn federal, state, and local grants. They have been extremely successful, and this could be a viable idea for Harrisonburg to start having a focus on how to bring outside money into the school district.

From Montana, there were actually a number of towns that had moved from 1 to 2 high schools within the last two decades. This article ( examined how Bozeman could learn from Kalispell, which built a second high school in 2004. Kalispell had difficulties that we don’t have. Their original high school was built in 1898 and, when a $50 million bond was issued for the construction for a new high school, $40 million went to the new high school and $5 million was designated for improvements to the original high school. In Harrisonburg, we wouldn’t need to worry that one high school was significantly newer than the other. The article gives suggestions for how to approach a transition from 1 to 2 high schools such as having an educational project team that planned for a year about the transition, timelines, communication to public, and more.

I found this research through several dedicated web searches and through discussion with my father, a retired public school administrator in Indiana. I think it also would be useful to look at Lawrence, KS. In 1997, they expanded to two high schools and, because the University of Kansas is within Lawrence, there are similarities to our Harrisonburg/JMU population. At the time of my speech to City Council, I had not fully researched this area.

I bring up these examples because Harrisonburg is not in a unique situation. We can learn from other school districts. The challenges they faced were not insurmountable. But they did have to carefully think about how to act. Our town will encounter problems (indeed, we already have) but we can’t let this dissuade us from a second high school, and we can’t let the worry slow down the construction on a second high school. It needs to be ready to open in the summer of 2021.

Imagine the research and the resources available when the school board and the city of Harrisonburg devotes time and energy to how to deal with a transition rather than kicking the decision down the street for another decade.

We need the City Council to make a definitive leap. Vote to go forward with the second high school so that we can go forward. lists why a mega-high school won’t work and why we need a second high school and why a grade realignment is not a feasible option and what comparable high schools cost, in addition to much more information. Every possible solution has been researched and debated, and our community deserves to move FORWARD rather than re-hashing why we need a second high school. Our City Council members need to deal with the issue, vote for a second high school, and let us move to the next step. Trust in the School Board; trust in our community; trust in education. Please, act NOW—in 2017.

An Invitation to Engage

This group of local Harrisonburg residents formed because we wish the City Council and the School Board to take decisive action in building a second high school for our city. Last spring, the High School Space Study Committee thoroughly researched all options (an addition, an annex or HHS2) and found that the only long-term solution was to build a second high school. The Committee made a recommendation to the School Board, and the School Board voted unanimously to ask City Council for the funds to build a new high school. Last June, the School Board asked the City Council to move forward with a new high school. While other ideas were proposed after this very public process, the administration at Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) has been able to provide compelling responses for why a second high school is essential. The School Board has been exploring land options with Council’s permission, but the process has been going slowly. Now, it is time to act! We need to commit to buying land and start building HHS2.

Harrisonburg High School opened in 2005 at near-capacity. Harrisonburg is an actively growing city. We are proud to be a Welcoming City with a diverse population, but this growth means that our schools have been crowded for several years already. Core capacity at HHS is 1,550 students, but in 2017, there are more than 1,780 students in attendance. And more students are arriving every day. A typical high school takes four years to build. Students that are in 6th grade now will enter high school in 2020, and predictions say that 2,100 students will be trying to crowd into HHS in August of 2020 if something is not done. That is 55% over capacity! Teachers, students, and administrators who are already overwhelmed will be even more so. Our whole city would suffer the economic consequences.

Harrisonburg City Council needs to approve the plan, designate funds, purchase land, and begin to work with an architect to build this school. They need to do this immediately! If we act now, current 5th-graders have a chance to walk into two wonderful high schools as 9th graders.

ForHHS2 was formed by a group of local citizens. We know that our elected officials have an important decision to make, and we want them to feel the support and excitement this community has for building HHS2. We know our community, and we want to foster discussion in a productive and healthy way. The facts of overcrowding are clear, but we know that the necessary raise in taxes may cause some citizens to be concerned. Therefore, we want to engage our community, provide concrete facts (not fearmongering), and show our City Council members that we can, through thoughtful discourse and responsible action, fully support HHS2. We ask our fellow community members to engage with us. Ask questions, and we will give honest answers.

ForHHS2 means that the Future of Rocktown is within HHS2. It will be a major and expensive decision, but our kids deserve it and our community deserves it. Let’s engage and move forward with the decision!