By Henry Luzzatto

Centra Health, a Lynchburg-based health care company, will be opening a school for children with mental disabilities at the site of the former Rockbridge Middle School.

Centra operates a branch of its Rivermont Schools, which serve students with mental and emotional disabilities, in Lexington. The branch serves many students from Rockbridge County and the surrounding areas, and the company expects enrollment to grow.

“We have been providing five classes at our school off of Lee Highway,” said Lloyd Tannenbaum, the director of Centra Health’s Rivermont Schools. “And demand has been very high in recent years.”

Centra Health’s Rivermont Schools have branches throughout Virginia. Tannenbaum says that the new location will allow Centra to care for more students in the area.

“We will have a bigger building with a bigger staff, so we will be able to do so much more,” he said.

The school will move from its current location to the old Rockbridge Middle School building in Fairfield. At its meeting on Jan. 11, the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors approved a 50-year lease for Centra Health.

Centra will pay no upfront costs to lease the building, but will pay fees in lieu of taxes, because it is a nonprofit organization. However, in addition to the cost of the lease itself, Centra will need to pay for extensive renovations to suit its needs.

Tannenbaum said that the building “needs new HVAC on the bottom floor,” as well as other extensive repairs. The new space totals almost 3 acres of land, including parking.

According to the Centra Health website, the school admits students who cannot be in a regular school setting because of “psychological problems, emotional difficulties or learning disabilities, but who do not require inpatient treatment.” As part of the agreement, Centra Health will give enrollment priority to students from areas that are a part of the Rockbridge County School System.

The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors approved Centra Health’s use of the school after considering two proposals. The other proposal was from Rick Mast Foundation, which wanted to use the land and the surrounding fields.

The Rick Mast Foundation is a charity run by former NASCAR driver Rick Mast.

“The Rick Mast Foundation agreed to revise its proposal to allow Centra Health to be the prime applicant for ownership of the building,” Community Development Director Sam Crickenberger said at the board meeting.

Centra Health will be unable to start construction until after the due diligence period is finished on April 11.

Location of the middle school:

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