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Equity, parity at heart of Albemarle schools’ CIP

The Albemarle County School Board has unanimously endorsed a facilities budget that, if fully funded, could see as much as $124.9 million in building improvements over the next five years.

The spending plan — which represents the division’s projected infrastructure needs — now will be considered against local government needs to form the Capital Improvement Plan for the next budget cycle.

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 capital budget for just the 2016-17 school year totals about $19.2 million.

Following seven yearly, continuous projects such as building maintenance, school bus replacements and security improvements, the School Board’s top-ranked construction project is about $5 million in upgrades at Red Hill Elementary School, which, division spokesman Phil Giaramita said at a School Board meeting Thursday, is in need of addressing infrastructure and curricular shortcomings.

“There really are concerns about the equity issue that the students at Red Hill don’t have the same learning opportunities as kids in the other schools,” Giaramita said.

School Board member Steve Koleszar agreed.

“The equity and parity issue at Red Hill, I’m not willing to see that pushed down [the list],” Koleszar said.

The project — the first phase of which would begin next summer — includes modernizing all of the school’s classrooms and its media center, as well as the addition of a new gymnasium and small support rooms.

Postponed in recent CIP cycles, Red Hill’s upgrades are “way overdue,” said School Board member Jon Stokes

“We’re affecting children who actually are in school, as opposed to students who are projected to be in school,” Stokes said.

The second-ranked project is a five-year, $36 million learning spaces modernization project. Designed to touch every building in the division, schools officials say changes to classroom elements such as furniture, surfaces and access to natural light are sorely needed.

As of Thursday, the division’s enrollment stood at 13,394 total students. As Albemarle struggles with capacity in many of its urban ring schools, the School Board ranked a 16-classroom, 300-seat addition at Woodbrook Elementary as its third priority. The $13.4 million project also would include a new gymnasium and an expanded cafeteria, and would provide relief to nearby elementary schools.

Rosalyn Schmidt, the school division’s assistant director of facilities planning, said Greer Elementary School — which is currently over capacity — would see the biggest benefit from Woodbrook’s addition.

The final two projects are $6.8 million for renovations and additions at Western Albemarle High School and $8.6 million for an addition at Monticello High School.

The school division’s CIP request will now be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget before being reviewed by the Technical Review Committee in October and the Oversight Committee in November. In December, the School Board will meet jointly with the Board of Supervisors to review the CIP.

The CIP request comes on the heels of a five-year-planning meeting at which the School Board and Board of Supervisors were told that the county is projected to begin next fiscal year with an $8.8 million funding gap for operations — $6.4 million of which will fall upon the schools.

Regardless of which capital projects receive funding, Giaramita said the financial outlook is grim.

“We have a good sense of what the needs are, and there are only about 30 school divisions in the state in growth mode and we’re a part of that, but it’s clear that the current revenue structure isn’t adequate to support that.”