Beginning to Plan for Three Elementary Schools in Fredericksburg

When the new middle school opens next year, the building that now houses Walker-Grant Middle School will be converted into a third elementary school.

As work continues on Fredericksburg’s new middle school, division administrators are beginning to plan for the conversion of the current middle school into a third elementary school.

The new $77 million, 160,000-square-foot middle school in the Idlewild neighborhood will accommodate 1,100 students and is on track to be completed and open for the 2025-26 academic year.

Deputy superintendent Matt Eberhardt provided a brief update on the process of converting the current Walker-Grant Middle School into an elementary school at the School Board’s regular meeting on Monday.

“As you know, the School Board decided [in 2021] that Fredericksburg needed three elementary schools to reduce significant overcrowding at the two existing elementary schools,” Eberhardt said. “This will reduce enrollment down to about 550 [at the] three schools.”

A task force made up of School Board and City Council members decided in 2021 that since both city elementary schools were over capacity—Hugh Mercer was nearing 1,000 students at the time—and those large numbers of students would soon arrive at Fredericksburg’s one middle school, building a larger middle school would be a more forward-thinking solution.

“If we begin a new elementary, we would complete the new building and turn around and be in dire need of a new middle school,” School Board and task force member Jennifer Boyd said during a June 2021, meeting announcing the middle school plan. “If we build a middle school … we can look ahead and solve that [capacity] problem before it hits.”

Current enrollment at Hugh Mercer is 849 and at Lafayette is 809. Walker-Grant Middle School’s enrollment is 776.

Eberhardt said Monday that architects from Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates will visit Walker-Grant this week to complete plans for the first phase of converting the school to an elementary school—the installation of new cabinetry—which will take place this summer.

He also said that staff are now studying updated zoning maps of the city to determine the attendance zones for the three elementary schools.

The current Walker-Grant Middle School is located on the same campus as Lafayette Elementary School, which means that there will eventually be two elementary schools on the same campus.

“As you can imagine there are many possibilities to consider,” Eberhardt said Monday. “At this time, we have only begun the process of drawing out possible district lines.”

For decades prior to 2021, schools in the city were “single stream,” meaning all K–2 students in the city attended Hugh Mercer Elementary and all students in grades 3–5 attended Lafayette Upper Elementary School before going on to Walker-Grant Middle and James Monroe High.

Both Hugh Mercer and Lafayette were converted to K-5 schools in 2021. Administrators said at the time that this was an interim solution to overcrowding. The city was divided into two elementary school zones with William Street as a rough boundary line.

Eberhardt said Monday that a committee of teachers, principals, and central office staff met at some point this year to “discuss the idea of themed schools,” a concept in which each school would have a special focus such as language immersion, STEM, or fine arts.

“The committee decided to pause at this time and regroup and revisit the concept in the fall of 2024,” Eberhardt said.

The name Walker-Grant Middle School will carry over to the new middle school, but the third elementary school will need a name, and Eberhardt recommended on Monday that the School Board establish a committee to work on this.

The committee formed in 2004 to name what is now Lafayette Elementary consisted of two School Board members, one City Councilor, one administrator, two teachers and two parents, Eberhardt said.

Managing Editor and Correspondent