The Richmond School Board on Monday approved a $224.8 million, five-year facilities plan to build long-awaited new schools across the city.
The approval came after a recommendation from the school system’s interim superintendent, Tommy Kranz, who was asked at a special meeting last week to present the administration’s opinion. The five new schools and two renovations approved by the board are part of both of the two plans Kranz had previously presented to the board.
The 5-3 vote was taken without receiving public comments on the two plans, which were not made publicly available outside of a breakdown in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday. The last time the board weighed a facilities plan — during the 2014-15 school year — it held 18 public meetings.
“It’s time to stop talking about the condition of our school facilities, and it’s time to take action,” School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page said.
Voting against the plan were Scott Barlow, Jonathan Young and Linda Owen. Liz Doerr was not present for the vote after leaving the meeting for personal reasons.
“Today constitutes a disappointing day for collaboration and for responsible government,” Young said.
Under the approved plan, E.S.H. Greene Elementary School, George Mason Elementary School, Woodville Elementary School, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School and George Wythe High School will all be rebuilt. Fairfield Elementary School and J.L. Francis Elementary School will receive renovations.
Kranz did not recommend a full 20-year plan Monday, but he did voice his support for Plan A, an $800 million plan presented to the board.
The five schools that will be rebuilt as a result of Kranz’s five-year plan have long been a symbol of frustration for the community, School Board members and the administration. George Mason has been deemed the worst of the district’s 44 schools when it comes to facilities, requiring about $130,000 this summer just to remain open this year, but Kranz has repeatedly said that the difference between Mason and the second-worst isn’t too large a gap.
The new Greene school, for example, will help overcrowding at Broad Rock Elementary School, according to the recommendation, with the new school housing 1,000 students.
Construction on the 1,000-student Greene school will start next fiscal year, which starts July 1, with a total cost of $35 million. Work on a 1,500-student Elkhardt-Thompson, a 2,000-student George Wythe and a 650-student George Mason will also start next fiscal year. Construction of a 650-student Woodville won’t begin until fiscal 2022.
In the original plans presented to the board, George Mason construction would have been delayed until fiscal 2021, which upset some board members, especially 7th District interim representative Cheryl Burke, who said it needs to be higher on the priority list.
The funding for the plan will come from the city, which has been a point of contention for the board.
At a special meeting on facilities last week, board members debated the best method of approaching facilities: asking the city for everything, or critically making the board’s wish list knowing it likely won’t get the funding needed to make all the necessary improvements.
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