RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Leaders from City Hall and Richmond Public Schools have finally set a date to meet to discuss a new George Wythe High School.
On February 14, the city council delayed yet another vote on Mayor Levar Stoney’s request to transfer $7.3 million to Richmond Public Schools to hire an architectural firm to begin designing the new high school. The decision was then made to give the council and the school board another opportunity to meet and hash out issues that have remained unresolved for more than a year.
In a letter today, Stoney addressed some of those problems head-on, laying out that he hopes they come to some agreement during this meeting. In it, he states the meeting is “more urgent than ever as we now have two school communities – George Wythe High School and William E. Fox Elementary School – desperately seeking new facilities.”
The letter goes on to offer some potential compromises, but also highlights why discussions over the construction of the new high school have been so fraught from the very beginning.
The mayor initially proposed the city work with the school board on building the new school, attempting to get the ball rolling on design bids for the school in the summer of 2021, instead of Superintendent Jason Kamras’ proposed start date in 2022 or the school boards’ timeline in 2023.
In the letter, Stoney notes that the city’s “offer from last summer – to build the schools that RPS designs by separating the design services process from construction management – still stands.”
But noting that the school board already struck down that offer, voting instead on its “Schools Build Schools” position, Stoney’s letter advises a compromise of sorts that his team believes could speed up the construction timeline.
Instead of RPS being fully in control of the construction process for both schools, referred to as the “Design-Bid-Build” delivery method in construction and contracting, he proposes they use a “Construction Manager at Risk” method. The latter typically requires a commitment by whoever is managing the project to deliver the project within a guaranteed maximum price. They do so by managing and controlling costs by changing design elements as needed. Stoney says this would be better than the alternative “considering current challenges posed by inflation, workforce shortages and supply chain delays”.
By the city’s estimates, using this method could have both school’s completed in 2024 with the Design-Bid-Build method. The school board has stated that this method of retaining full control over construction would allow it to have the school open by 2027 with a capacity of 1,600 students.
The school’s size is another issue Stoney addresses in the letter. It has been a point of contention for him, some school board members whose district includes George Wythe and many living on the south side.
Urging compromise, Stoney states, “It seems reasonable to consider a school capacity somewhere in between the 1,600 directed by the majority of the School Board and the 2,000 that was informed by Cropper GIS projections from 2018-2019 while retaining some flexibility in design.”
Without compromise, it’s unclear whether city council will move forward with the transfer of funds offered to hire a firm to design a new Wythe to the school board’s specifications.