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  • Diana Matthews

Leaders break ground on major WHS construction project

A crowd of approximately 50 people attended yesterday morning’s official groundbreaking on the campus of Whiteville High School. The $19.4 million project is expected to be complete during the summer of 2021, said Chip Overman, who will manage the project for Wilmington-based general contractor Clancy and Theys Construction.

Members of the Whiteville City Schools Board of Education participate in a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning for a new building at Whiteville High School.

School board members and other elected officials, led by city schools superintendent Marc Whichard, used gold-toned shovels to lift ceremonial dirt from a pile on the lawn in front of the cafeteria, one of the buildings that will be demolished once the new building is ready to use.

The new two-story building will bring classrooms, administrative offices, food service, performing arts rehearsal areas and career-technical education under one roof, connected to the existing gym.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, Whichard recognized city, county and state government representatives, as well as city school principals and administrators and other community leaders present. He said that previous superintendent Kenny Garland sent his regrets for not being able to come. Garland spent “countless hours” over many nights and weekends to bring the project close to the construction stage before taking another job in Monticello, Ga., Whichard said.

Whichard gave special thanks to WHS alumnus Bill Valentine, with whom he said he speaks frequently. Valentine and his wife Jane donated $250,000 toward the construction project in July. Valentine “believes in this community like none other,” Whichard said.

Bill Valentine, a retired architect, told the school board at the time of the donation that he and his wife would not be in Whiteville for the groundbreaking, but that the board would be able to hear them shouting “Hooray” all the way from California.

School board chairman Coleman Barbour commented that, “The community is looking forward to the changes” that will now begin on the WHS campus. “The present keeps progressing into the future. The future keeps progressing into infinity,” he said. “This is a great day.”

“My mother taught here for many years,” said Clerk of Courts Jess Hill after the ceremony. He recalled “running the halls” of the high school while he was still in elementary school. Past generations of educators would be happy and proud to see the progress now occurring, he said. “It’s a great day for Whiteville City Schools,” Hill said, and he was glad to see “educational improvements being made all around the county.”

Architect Ginny Magrath stated that LS3P Design “is very excited for construction to start on this wonderful project for Whiteville High School. Whiteville City Schools, USDA Rural Development, Columbus County, Clancy and Theys Construction, and all agencies involved have been a pleasure to work with.” She emphasized the improvements to instruction and security that the new design will bring, while also complementing “the rich history of Whiteville’s community.”

After the celebration, retired educator and former school board member Carlton Prince reminisced about how the band building soon to be demolished had served as a gym, library, classroom building and “anything you could imagine” in the past. The basketball court and bleachers were inadequate, he said, and the dressing rooms were “deplorable.”

When the school’s other buildings were lost to a fire in 1958, Prince said, his least-favorite building survived. The classroom and cafeteria buildings that replaced the burned structures were not well built, he said, and caused him frustration and extra work during his years as WHS principal.

Prince looks forward to seeing “a well-constructed building” take the place of all of them.

Asbestos abatement in the former band building is complete, said Corey Douglas, assistant project manager, and the next stage of work will be demolition of that building.

Clancy and Theys superintendent Rob Bridgers said his workers will do their best to salvage vintage decorative elements of the structure for reuse elsewhere on campus.

Band students currently practice in the former weight room at the south end of the campus, adjacent to West Williamson Street. Weights have been moved to the balcony of the gym. Band and weight rooms will both be included in the new building. A new media center that was planned will not be included, and students will continue to use the media center in the building shared with science classes.

Jes Sealey was principal of WHS for seven years and said he is thankful to see the students getting a new facility. “These buildings have served their purpose and their time,” he said. Sealey predicted that the staff will appreciate the new school building, “and it will help the community.”

Donnie Hannah graduated in 1974 and has worked as an Exceptional Children assistant for 41 years. His classroom will be in the new building. He said he is pleased to see construction on the new building about ready to begin. “This will be exciting for our kids,” Hannah said.

Current WHS Principal Michael Hobbs said faculty members are also “very excited to see construction start. For a lot of them, it’s been a long time. They’re super excited to see something starting.”

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