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Albemarle School Board grapples with capital projects
20150827-Rosalyn Schmitt Dean Tistadt
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Rosalyn Schmitt, assistant director of facilities planning for Albemarle County Public Schools, and Dean Tistadt, the division's chief operating officer, discuss capital projects with the School Board.
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Tim Shea | Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 9:14 p.m.

The Albemarle County School Board is still considering a plan that, if fully funded, would spur $123 million in capital improvements to the school division’s infrastructure over the next five fiscal years.

The board on Thursday took its second look at the plan, which is approximately $18 million more than the School Board’s fiscal year 2015 request.

“It’s more than a matter of what’s most important, it’s what’s critical, because it’s clear there won’t be enough dollars to take care of student needs created by enrollment growth and the need to modernize facilities,” said Phil Giaramita, division spokesman.

Revised each year, the CIP is shared jointly between the school division and county government and serves as a planning document. It estimates costs in one year increments over a decade. The proposed capital budget for just the 2016-17 fiscal year totals $18.8 million.

Ranked by the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee, the list of 12 items is topped by seven yearly projects, such as general building maintenance, school bus replacements and security improvements.

Following those seven items, the top-ranked construction project is $4.9 million in upgrades to Red Hill Elementary’s gymnasium, classrooms and media center.

For the second year in a row, the schools also are requesting funds for a division-wide learning-spaces modernization project. Estimated to cost $36 million over the next five fiscal years, the initiative would touch every school building. The rationale for such a large project, schools officials say, is the need for Albemarle’s teachers to deliver the innovative instruction the division expects.

Totaling $27.8 million, Woodbrook Elementary, Monticello High and Western Albemarle High all are slated for additions over the next five fiscal years.

Staff also offered the School Board alternatives to the long-range planning committee’s recommended CIP.

With respect to Red Hill, staff said the board could choose to modernize existing classrooms and the media center, but to reduce the priority of any additions and renovations, including the gymnasium.

Ned Gallaway, chairman of the School Board, asked whether any elements of the learning-spaces modernization project could be added to the maintenance classification — a move that would elevate its priority as the proposed CIP enters committee.

“This is an important project, and in its entirety we need to convince the public and the supervisors to fund it,” said Dean Tistadt, Albemarle’s chief operating officer.

The timing and size of a proposed 300-seat addition for Woodbrook Elementary — aimed at solving capacity issues in the urban ring — also could be adjusted, staff said.

But Gallaway questioned if the board should be thinking greater than 300 seats.

“What happens five years after we build the 300 seats and we need 300 more?” Gallaway asked.

“But it could be the other way around. We could need those additional 300 seats, but somewhere else,” School Board member Jon Stokes said.

Tistadt said the division couldn’t fit more than 300 additional students into Woodbrook.

“Eight or 10 years ago we had excess capacity throughout the division,” School Board member Steve Koleszar said. “The reality is that when the recession hit, the Board of Supervisors made a bad decision not to build and to cut the CIP.”

“We could have saved the taxpayers of this community a lot of money by making the decision to build when it was cheaper to build,” Koleszar said.

A 250-seat addition at Monticello High scheduled to open in 2019 could be postponed, while an addition for Western Albemarle High’s Environmental Sciences Academy could be accelerated, said Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s assistant director of facilities planning.

The School Board’s goal is to adopt a plan at its Sept. 10 meeting. The plan will then go before both the Oversight and Technical Review committees before it is considered by the Board of Supervisors.

 

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