Salem’s Madam Mayor presides over first meeting

Photo by Meg Hibbert
Salem Montessori School Directress Valerie Vanderhoeven addresses Salem City Council July 13 in the Community Room of the Salem Civic Center, regarding a special exception permit to reopen elementary and middle school grades in the former building on Boulevard.
Meg Hibbert Contributing writer


Salem’s first woman mayor presided over her initial meeting Monday evening.

Mayor Renee Turk and Vice Mayor Jim Wallace took part in their first full meeting since they were sworn in July 1. This one was in the Community Room of the Salem Civic Center in order to provide social distancing for the 25 people in the audience.

After delaying a vote at the June 22 meeting, Councilmembers unanimously approved a special exception for the Salem Montessori School to reopen for elementary and middle school students in its former building on Roanoke Boulevard across from GE.

The permit is for one year, and has three conditions: no more than 60 students, a maximum of six staff members and cars, and appropriate traffic directions to parents from Salem Montessori School Directress Valerie Vanderhoeven.

The full school from daycare through high school was located in the building for 23 years until new buildings were built near the Salem YMCA.

Because of COVID-19 required distancing and more space for the older students needed for supplemental curriculum, the lower grades need to be moved back to the Boulevard building, Vanderhoeven explained.

Council’s initial concerns raised in June were traffic backing up onto Boulevard and parents backing into private driveways return to the main street.

Vanderhoeven reassured Council that she is communicating with parents and providing maps on how to exit via Alberta Drive and Easton Road. She said the lower number of students – more than 80 were in that building before – should also help with traffic congestion.

Neighboring property owner Elizabeth Curet, who in June voiced her concerns over parking and parents exiting through the neighborhood, reemphasized those to Council, and added, “I will be watching.”

In other votes that evening, Council approved:

  • A requested membership change from the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority that includes Salem to add representatives from Virginia Tech and Carilion.
  • Transfer of VDOT carryover funds that will be sufficient to finance paving some Salem streets, Finance Director Rosie Jordan said.
  • Appropriation of an additional donation of $72,000 from the estate of Robert Gordon Page to the Salem Animal Shelter. Jordan said Police Chief Michael Crawley wants to use a portion of the funds to upgrades the cage system to make larger spaces for animals awaiting adoption.
  • Appropriate $1,000 Keep Virginia Beautiful Green Grant program to restore the city’s World War I Memorial. Members of the Roanoke-Salem American legion Post will help install, Jordan said.
  • Appropriate a transfer of $109,000 to the Salem Civic Center Building Improvement Account, for two new boilers at the civic center.
  • Appropriate $36,290 to the Registrar’s budget to purchase new poll books. Existing books are 12 years old, Electoral Board Vice Chairman Steve Smeltzer told Council.
  • Appointment of various residents to boards and commissions, including Mayor Renee Turk to the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Transportation Board on which Jane Johnson previously served. Turk asked to be appointed.

In an additional new item, Vice Chairman Wallace asked Council to consider the possibility of video streaming Council meetings in the future. That would be a topic for the next work session on July 28, Councilman Randy Foley suggested.

The Council meeting adjourned at 7:25 p.m.

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