The multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School, the first phase of the reconfiguration of schools in the city of Charlottesville to bring all middle grades together under one roof, drew more attention during the Wednesday’s joint meeting between the city council and the school board that a proposed request for $4 million. .
Buford’s expansion leads to a multi-pronged project to consolidate middle grades into one building, return fifth grade to elementary schools, and consolidate kindergarten on the current Walker Upper Elementary campus.
The discussion between the counselors and the members of the School Board focused largely on the reasons for the project, which was the subject of several meetings over the past year.
“The question for us on council is what can we afford,” Mayor Lloyd Snook said near the end of the discussion.
There has been little discussion about the school division’s request for $4,039,070 from the city. That’s about $670,000 more than the division would receive through an unofficial formula and would cover cost increases from city contracts for transportation and maintenance as well as a $15,000 storm water tax. $, depending on presentation.
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In a variation of hybrid meetings, school board members met in person at the Charlottesville High School library for the meeting while councilors and city staff joined virtually.
This is Superintendent Royal Gurley Jr.’s first budget with the division. For the city, consultant Michael C. Rogers is serving as interim city manager and will lead the budget process. He started this role on Monday.
Gurley discussed the initial spending plan with the school board last month and will formally submit the funding request at Thursday’s meeting.
The final round of reconfiguration designs for Buford came to $82 million, $7 million more than the $75 million budget. This led VMDO Architects, which is leading the project, to seek cost reductions.
“I’m going to show you things that won’t be popular,” said Wyck Knox, project manager for VMDO. “These are our suggestions. Nobody approved them.
Knox said current economic inflation has led to higher cost estimates. Usually, at this stage of schematic design, cost estimates might be a bit more expensive, but not $7 million, he said.
Potential changes include reducing the square foot per student from 151 to 146, not building a garden, eliminating a proposed track around the existing football field, expanding the parking lot and hall eat outside.
Those alternatives, among other changes, will be sent to a cost estimator this week, and then a working group of city and school officials will review them.
Buford’s renovations and alterations are part of the city’s five-year capital improvement plan after councilors voted in October to include a $75 million item, but payment for the project will likely require a combination of increases tax rates, city officials said. The city’s RFP asked VMDO to design a project between $50 million and $80 million.
City leaders are currently seeking permission from the General Assembly to ask voters to approve a 1% increase in the local sales tax. These tax revenues, approximately $12 million, would go directly to school building projects.
House Republicans recently killed three House bills related to a sales tax increase, though similar state Senate legislation could still pass.
VMDO needs an answer on whether to go ahead with the project around March 17. The objective is to put the project in competition by February 2023.
The March 17 council meeting will fall after the current legislative session, meaning councilors will know the fate of the sales tax bill by then.
After the presentation, the advisers asked for more information on the need and the expected results of the project.
Councilor Sena Magill said she understands the schools need massive renovations but expressed confusion over how the reconfiguration will address equity concerns.
“What’s in the reconfiguration magic that’s supposed to meet our capital needs? ” she asked. “I would like to understand that better.”
Councilor Michael Payne said he wants to see peer-reviewed research and a meta-analysis of school districts that have made similar changes and how that has affected achievement gaps.
School board members and division staff reiterated points previously raised about the need for the project, from improving the physical learning environment to providing greater stability for students.
Kim Powell, the division’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the buildings themselves are safe, but maintenance alone cannot fix noisy HVAC units or provide more natural light.
Powell encouraged counselors to visit Buford and Walker and see schools in other communities.
“Experience that contrast between what we have and what the school districts have around us,” she said. “And I’m talking about communities that don’t have as many resources like Buckingham and Greene. They don’t have any building like what you have in Walker and Buford.