ASHLAND, Va. (WRIC) — The decision to combine two Hanover County elementary schools has sparked a fierce debate over what the combined school’s name should be.

The district announced plans to consolidate Henry Clay and John Gandy Elementary Schools in 2018.

While some people want to name the school something new, others want to keep one of the current names to preserve history.

This week, a school board appointed committee voted to name the consolidated school Berkleytown Elementary.

The NAACP Hanover County branch delivered their suggestion of retaining the name John M. Gandy for the consolidated school to county supervisors, school board members, and the county administrator.

They added that if their suggestion was not adopted by the school board, then they propose naming it Berkleytown Elementary.

Kimberly Thurston, who also sent an email suggestion to the committee, said Berkleytown gives the school a fresh start while also honoring the black community.

“I know that the overwhelming majority of constituents from Ashland really want it to remain Gandy, but based on the policy that’s not possible,” she said. “I just thought that it was a great way to pay respects and acknowledgement to Mr. Gandy and his contributions while keeping the policy enacted.”

According to Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Berkleytown was a thriving African American developed in response to a segregation ordinance issued by the town in 1911, as well as other forms of racial discrimination at that time.

In addition to recommending the school be named after a historic black community, the NAACP said the committee should rename the school board administration building after Gandy.

In the event that the Hanover County Public Schools administration leaves the building, it should be returned to the county and renamed The John M. Gandy Cultural Center, the organization said.

The consolidated school is being built in Ashland and will hold students from both Clay and Gandy Elementary Schools.

The committee’s vote follows some controversy over whether to merge the school’s name to Gandy-Clay or to call it something else.

Sandra Howard, who graduated from Gandy Elementary a year before the school system integrated, said she wants Gandy to remain in the name.

“We have a legend. We have something to look back on when we see Mr. Gandy. He was a wonderful guy and I just wish they’d leave it alone,” she said.

She blames the possible name change on retaliation for the Lee-Davis High School name change.

Rachel Levy served on parent teacher associations for Clay and Gandy Elementary schools where her children attended. She said Ashland residents were promised the name would remain when the consolidation was proposed in 2018.

“This promise was made and then it was taken away. People specifically agreed to support the consolidation if the name stayed on,” she said. “People have a lot of trouble these days trusting our school board and this really erodes that trust.”

However, a school policy doesn’t allow school leaders to name unnamed facilities — including new schools — after a person. Levy argued that the consolidated school technically isn’t new or without a name.

“It’s never been referred to as a new school. That’s just something that has been trumped up. It’s an argument I think has been made in bad faith,” Levy said.

Clara James-Scott, who wants Gandy to remain in the name, said her sister previously attended the school.

“Had we not integrated the schools, I would’ve been one of those students that went to John M. Gandy,” she said. “It has a rich history in the community and I just cannot understand why you would strip that history from young people and from this community when there’s nothing negative about it at all.”

8News reached out to school board members and to the chairman of the board about the naming process and the school policy.

We have not received a response.

The committee is scheduled to make their recommendation to the school board on April 11th. School Board members are expected to vote on the school’s name in May.