New School Soon to Shine But a Few Questions Still Remain

The names Gordon Williams, Keith Karper and Sean Gray may not ring a bell of recognition for most people in our area yet these three men, along with scores of masons, electricians, plumbers and administrators are coming down the home stretch on a project that will touch the lives of thousands of Clarke Countians for decades to come.

At 4:00pm on a recent Monday, with temperatures at the new high school construction site near one hundred degrees under a withering and intense sun, all three men are still at work on the job site even though nearly everyone else has left for the day.

Gordon Williams is Shockey Construction’s project superintendent for Clarke County’s new high school. Keith Karper and Sean Gray are project architects with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, the architectural firm in charge of project. These three men, along with Gannett Fleming’s onsite manager Mike Castelli, have bottom line responsibility for making sure that the new school’s brick walls ultimately form straight lines and that the building’s roof doesn’t leak, along with thousands of other just as important details, when the new school is finished.

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Castelli, who serves as Clarke County’s onsite agent and school board construction liaison, said that given the complexity of the construction work being performed, he has nothing but positive things to say about his experience working with the Shockey and Rohrbaugh construction crews.

“I’m very happy with the team effort” Castelli said prior to a Monday afternoon site tour being provided for county and school officials and a local reporter. “Great things start at the top and that includes Shockey, Crabtree and the Clarke County School Board.”

Williams, who has over 45 years of construction experience, demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the Clarke County school job site as he leads Clarke County Supervisor Michael Hobert (Berryville), School Board Member Janet Alger (Russell), CCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy and CCHS principal Dr. Jeffrey Jackson through the pipes, wires and two-by-four’s in varying degrees of completion at the construction site.

As the group dons construction hard hats before entering the building, Williams says that he has no concerns about completing the building on time.

“We’ll be done by January without a doubt” said Williams brimming with confidence exceeded only by his years of experience. “We’ll handle all of the details right down to installing bulletin boards, shelving, basketball hoops and the hardwood on the gym floor. When I walk out you’ll be able to walk in.”

As Williams leads the group inside the soon-to-be-school, the combination of large floor fans and shady cement block corridors – doors and windows have yet to be installed –  provides a cool and welcome respite from the hot and dusty outdoor work environment just a few feet away.

Williams’s first tour stop is a corridor lined with traditional classrooms and science labs.

“Classrooms are approximately 900 square feet, science labs are about 1,400” Williams says. “We’re providing gas to each workstation and each classroom has its own individual gas shut-off control.”

As the group continues its walk through the school’s corridors, Williams points out windows at either end of the hall and the nine-foot ceilings that will make the space feel both bright and open. Not far beyond the traditional classrooms Williams describes business classrooms complete with small corner offices that can be used for practicing interviewing and other job skills that require a measure of privacy. Further on, computer labs feature workstation mounts that will soon accommodate the school’s million dollar investment in wireless networks and computers.

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During the building tour two things become quickly apparent; First, unlike the old high school building that incorporates long, straight hallways that can be easily supervised by only a few vigilant teachers, the new building has many more hallways and corners that will present oversight challenges for teachers. Second, public spaces in the new school appear much larger than in the existing high school, especially the gymnasium, band room and chorus areas.

But not only are nearly all of the public areas bigger than their existing counterparts, many of the room types in the new school don’t even exist in the current high school. For example, students will have access to performance dressing rooms, an ensemble practice room and a multipurpose area referred to as a green room. Closets are built into hallway walls outside of the band room to allow easy access to band uniforms.

The new gymnasium seems nothing short of massive. Not only will it hold more people – 1,148 students compared to 800 in the existing building – it will also feature a batting cage and connect to conditioning and training rooms complete with whirlpool tubs.

Although the gymnasium shares a wall with the auditorium, design steps have been taken to minimize disturbance from noise.

“The shared cement block wall has a two-inch separation to suppress noise” said Gordon Williams.

Other athletic facilities and features in the new building include ceiling mounted rollers that can hoist wrestling maps aloft for out-of-the-way storage, an aerobic/jazzercise area and a multipurpose area suitable for table tennis and other indoor activities.

But perhaps the most impressive feature of the building may be its auditorium and accompanying stage. While room dimension comparisons convey a sense of the difference between the current Johnson Williams Middle School auditorium and the new high school auditorium (wall-to-wall stage width 50 feet v. 84 feet; stage depth 30 feet v. 35 feet 4 inches; overall seating area 56 feet wide x 80 feet deep v. 90 feet wide x 82 feet deep) the sheer volume of useable space in the new auditorium must be seen in order to be appreciated and will seat 706 patrons when completed.

But even though the new high school will be nothing less than magnificent some shortcomings may still need to be addressed.

For example, despite being equipped with an auditorium and stage that will rival the facilities at many college campuses, Clarke County’s stage design does not include a traditional flyloft, an essential feature for both presenting and storing set backdrops. Whether the room’s high ceiling can somehow be rigged to serve a flyloft substitute remains to be seen.

Similarly, the new high school is equipped with a traditional book library to be populated with texts from the existing high school library. However, because Clarke County High School’s current library contains many obsolete books that are of little value to students combined with the overwhelming trend toward online educational resources rather than analog texts, questions about the need for such a space in the new facility will likely arise.

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And although many will be pleased that the new facility has a large vocational education area, necessities like exhaust fans for welding stations haven’t found a place in the facility’s budget just yet.

But even with its shortcomings, Clarke County students and citizens are sure to feel a large measure of community pride when the new school’s doors are finally opened next year. But it seems that Clarke County’s students won’t be alone as they transition from an old building into a shiny new school.

“The school that I am coming from was built in the late 1960’s so it is pretty old too” said Clarke County High School’s recently hired principal Jeffrey Jackson referring to his former school in West Point, Virginia. “This is really exciting and I’m looking forward to being here.”



  1. Smellin Roses says:

    Glad to see all the progress. Guess those little hiccups can be fixed by members in the community.

  2. Time4change says:

    Do teachers even monitor the halls now? That would only be a problem if they actually monitor.

  3. Because I Care says:

    Way to go Shockey and the rest of the crews! It’s really coming together nicely.

  4. Stonebroke says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but why didn’t they put the front of the school facing Main St. instead of the mountains. I can understand from a view standpoint, but wouldn’t it make more sense to show off the front of the school to people going by? Just curious?

    • Travis Goodwin says:

      This was decided well over a year ago, because it was the best orientation to maximize building size on the amount of land available.

      • Stonebroke says:

        Hmmm….. Not sure I understand? The amount of land available should be the same no matter how you sit the school on it?

        • Travis Goodwin says:

          Just take a look at the bus loop and parking lot configuration…that amount of space wouldn’t really fit with a Main Street-facing alignment. Also, look at where the admin wing is located (hint – that 1-story section just north of the 2-story academic wing)…if you want the admin offices next to the front entrance, then the School Board (3 years ago) needed to purchase a different set of plans. In this case, they bought a building, and had to get it to fit the site, instead of the other way around.

          All of this was debated over a year ago, when at least 3 site options were discussed before ground was broken.

          • Stonebroke says:

            Don’t have all day for a debate! I’m just saying that it would look better with the front facing where people can see the entrance in to the school. With this look, it might appear to be just another building that houses County offices.

          • Naked Truth says:

            Is the school being built to suit your needs?

          • Stonebroke says:

            Yep! Not worried about my needs, just happy it is finally being built! And my opinion is that I’d rather see the front of the building instead of the side. Most houses in Berryville face the street, not the side or the back! Just sayin!

          • Then I guess you have a problem with JWMS huh? Just sayin!

          • Lonnie Bishop says:

            Sir, it would seem you’re about 13 months late raising this objection. The different site locations were brought up, and even posted on here…last year. To rant about it now…well, that’s like tryin to get the Shenandoah to flow the other way. Give it a rest.

        • Lonnie Bishop says:

          Sure…if the parcel was a perfect square shape with no ups and downs, rocks, and whathaveyou.

          • Stonebroke says:

            That is usually the first part of the project. I think it is called grading the site to be built on.

  5. My 2 Cents says:

    Wondered that myself.. I guess we will have to settle for the side of the building..

  6. Mike Jenkins says:

    From what I gather- they be building a cvs on the backside of it- yippie! And a dang Walmart as well.

    • livein22611 says:

      Where in the world do you get your information??? Gee, I heard it was a Macy’s. And a Trader Joe’s. And a strip club. If your going to spread rumors, at least make them good. Oh yea, we’re getting a Wendy’s and a Chic-fil-A!! haha

  7. Stonebroke says:

    CVS would be great! Don’t need the Walmart! See if you can check into a Chic-Fila also? And if that happens, you will have to talk about expanding the parking lot space because of all the hypocritical people that act like they don’t want anything in Berryville to get their medicine and a Chicken Sandwich!

  8. My 2 Cents says:

    Agree with Stonebroke!

    Mike you would be first in line for those Waffle Fries

  9. Does anyone know about the technology for the classrooms? Will each have smartboards?

    Thank you,


    Here is the article from back in November, highlighting the tech plan for the new high school.