NEWPORT NEWS, Va (WAVY) — After more than a year of debate, the City of Newport News committed to building a new Huntington Middle School on the site of the old one. 

“My goal is to make it center of the community again,” said Mayor McKinley Price on Tuesday at a joint meeting of City Council and the School Board at the Downing Gross Cultural Arts Center.

The Newport News School Board voted to close the 80-plus-year-old building last year due to its deteriorating condition. 

However, the entire time members from the Huntington Alumni Association, who hark from the building’s high school days, have pleaded with leaders to save the school.

“Without that school … this place, when it comes to African Americans, would be a dire place,” said Ernst Thompson, a graduate of the school. “To hear the city council and school board to come together and to commit to rebuilding that school, man I feel like I’m floating.”

However, the announcement came with the School Board and Council on slightly different pages on how to proceed. Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Parker III, along with several School Board members expressed the desire for a specific time table. 

“We would hope to have a new building in place in 2-3 years,” Parker said in the meeting. “It’s not ideal to have partial middle school in Heritage High School.”

Seventh and eighth graders who would have been distracted for Huntington currently attend Heritage, while sixth graders in Huntington’s zone are split up between Hines and Crittenden middle schools. 

“Overpopulating or reaching those schools to capacity, we are also minimizing opportunities to other students who want to access rigorous programming in those schools,” Parker said.

A conceptual plan for a new Huntington has already been completed to the tune of $150,000. The School Board has asked City Council for $50 million to rebuild the school. 

Mayor Price on the other hand, wants to study the overall site first to see what other public services could be addressed with the project.

“Our fiscal responsibility is doing what is best for the entire community for all the residents,” Price said. “The schools are doing what they are supposed to do. Their number 1, that’s the school and City Council is doing what they are supposed to do. That’s looking at the community.”

Price would not commit to a timeline other than to say he would focus on an expedited plan.