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Ground broken on Buford modernization project

The last day of class was the first day of construction at Charlottesville’s Buford Middle School — or what is called Buford for now.

Charlottesville city leaders convened at Buford on Friday for a ceremonial groundbreaking on the three-year overhaul of the school.

Earlier in the week, Charlottesville City Schools sent out a statement announcing that the division’s superintendent has recommended changing Buford’s name to Charlottesville Middle School once students return to use the new school buildings.

After a competitive bidding process, Harrisonburg-based Nielsen Builders Inc. was tapped in late March as the general contractor for the $84.3 million construction project, a $91.8 million effort including design and other costs.

Thanks to a $17.6 million grant announced in May from the Virginia Department of Education, several components that might have been delayed appear to be on their way to reality: an overhauled performing arts center, a redeveloped school garden and a terraced outdoor classroom.

When Buford opened in 1966, said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook at Friday’s groundbreaking, “it was a visible sign that the people of Charlottesville wanted us to learn and to succeed. More than 50 years later, we want a new generation of students to feel that same kind of support. We want our children in middle school to meet today’s standards for learning, for safety, for sustainability.”

The renovation promises not only to overhaul Buford, but bring Charlottesville’s school pattern in line with those in other Virginia localities. Buford will expand from merely serving seventh- and eighth-graders by adding the sixth grade.

The change will let fifth-graders remain for one more year in the city’s six neighborhood elementary schools. It will also mean a role change for what has been known as Walker Upper Elementary. Founded as a junior high, Walker will become a centralized pre-kindergarden school.

Since 1988, when the city’s school board grew concerned that its two middle schools had become racially segregated, Charlottesville has both extended and divided each student’s middle school years with a practice it initially called “pairing” by sending them to Walker for two years and then to Buford for two years.

The Buford overhaul, overseen by Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects, is an expansion that promises improvements to natural light, accessibility, ventilation, and — in an era of increased shootings at American schools — security.

“A variety of internal safety features will accomplish the goal of connecting all learning spaces into one building so that students and staff do not need to walk outside between class changes,” reads one line from the city’s information sheet on the project.

The project will demolish the existing gymnasium as well as a small classroom structure called Building D. New structures will rise that will include both natural light and operable windows to take advantage of fresh air when weather permits.

The construction is slated to be complete just in time for the fall semester in 2026, but Buford students will continue learning in the existing facility while construction is underway.

By 2026, however, Buford may no longer be called that name.

On the Monday before the groundbreaking, City Schools announced that Dr. Royal Gurley Jr., the division’s superintendent, had recommended renaming the school Charlottesville Middle.

Buford is named after Florence De Launey Buford, a Brunswick County native and University of Virginia alumna who became a powerful force in the Charlottesville school system in the past century.

Buford taught history at the now-closed Lane High School and later served as the first principal at the still-operating Clark Elementary School from the time it opened in 1931 until her retirement in 1964, according to Daily Progress archived stories.

During most of her career in education, racial segregation was in full effect, and both Lane and Clark were opened as Whites-only schools.

Buford was known to have touched on the disparity between the segregated schools in her district in an address before the University League in 1948, in which she dismissed concerns that White schools had become overcrowded and highlighted that Jefferson School, set aside for the city’s Black students, was in fact suffering from the most crowding.

Buford is perhaps most known for her campaign to improve education for the mentally disabled in Charlottesville. She lobbied and won funding from the General Assembly for such facilities and was instrumental in forming what was then called the Council for Retarded Children. When she died, her family requested contributions be made to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Association for Retarded Children, what is now the Arc of the Piedmont.

Gurley said that his suggestion to rename the school coincides not only with the Charlottesville school system’s ongoing review of all school names to fit modern standards but with the new modernization efforts at Buford.

“This recommendation follows the current trend to move away from school names that honor individuals,” Gurley said in a statement. “In addition, it indicates that we are essentially building a new school serving grades 6-8. The recommended name is fitting since this middle school will become the place that welcomes all Charlottesville sixth-graders from their neighborhood elementary schools.”

City Schools has already approved new names for Clark and Venable elementary schools: Summit and Trailblazer, respectively. While the school division plans to rename Burnley-Moran and Johnson elementary schools next, their renaming has been put on pause after the initial batch of proposed names did not pass muster with school officials.


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