BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Governor Glenn Youngkin visited Southwest Virginia on Monday to help break ground on a new school within the Bristol Virginia Public School System.

According to Superintendent Keith Perrigan, this project has been in the works for over two decades. He said it became one of his main missions back in 2017, but like any project, it faced its hurdles.

Years later, in the summer of 2022, the ground has been officially broken on the new intermediate school that will one day host the district’s second through fifth graders.

The groundbreaking Monday took place at the future site of the school which sits adjacent to Van Pelt Elementary. Once this facility opens, Van Pelt will shift to a primary school, teaching students in Pre-K through first grade.

Three current schools within the district will consolidate into the new intermediate school. Those schools are Highland View, Washington Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The fate of those buildings will be decided by the city council once they are empty.

According to Perrigan, the facilities within the Bristol Virginia Public School system happen to be the fourth-oldest in the entire state.

Van Pelt is the newest school in the district, and construction began on it nearly 50 years ago to the day.

Now that progress is finally underway on this new facility, officials with the district expect to welcome students in the fall of 2024.

“It’s a historic day in the city of Bristol, Virginia,” Perrigan said. “We’ve gone way too long without updating our schools and thankfully we’re going to have some assistance from the state to help make this project more affordable.”

Amid school safety concerns fresh on the mind because of the shooting in Uvalde, the new design makes safety measures the number one priority.

“We’re going to have a lot of different safety options that aren’t part of our old buildings to make sure that our students are as safe as can be, but the number one thing that we can do to ensure our students and staff are safe is to have an armed and trained resource officer in our building,” said Perrigan. “And we’re going to have an officer at every single school in Bristol Virginia Public Schools.”

Governor Youngkin said this is a monumental move for the school district.

“This is a very important moment for us to be investing in our facilities, and that’s why our budget, I’m so proud of,” Youngkin said. “There’s an opportunity for us across the Commonwealth to provide support for the construction of schools that have been crumbling for 50 years or as we heard, 80 and 90 years.”

The new capacity will be just shy of 700 students with additional rooms being built in anticipation of population growth in Bristol.

“This truly is a big deal. I want to congratulate the city of Bristol and Bristol City schools for providing the best education possible in facilities that students deserve,” said Senator Todd Pillion.