City Schools committee to prioritize improvement projects
Charlottesville City Schools this month will begin work to prioritize a long list of capital improvement projects to bring before city officials in a bid to leverage the Capital Improvement Plan budget to improve and renovate school buildings and grounds.
A committee of School Board members, school staff, division officials and community members will meet twice this month to select two projects to present at Charlottesville’s first CIP planning meeting Aug. 30.
School division documents show more than 50 individual improvements on a list that covers each school in the division, including seven projects, such as security improvements and LED lighting, that would be implemented across the division.
The list was compiled by division staff after asking school teachers and administrators to work up lists of projects they want done at their campuses.
The projects essentially amount to a wish list, said Ed Gillaspie, city schools assistant superintendent. The schools receive about $1.3 million a year from the city in CIP money, but that money historically has been used mostly for maintenance, rather than renovations or improvements, Gillaspie said.
None of the city documents listed a specific cost for any of the projects.
“We want to make clear that we don’t have any funding,” Gillaspie said at the Charlottesville City School Board’s Thursday meeting. “We are just trying to be ready, have things teed up, so that, when there is money there, we have things ready to go.”
School Board member Ned Michie, who sits on the board’s CIP committee with board chairwoman Amy Laufer, said the $1.3 million CIP allocation has the potential to pit maintenance against building improvements.
“You find yourself arguing against maintenance, and that is uncomfortable, so I am glad to approach it from this perspective,” he said.
Renovations for the Charlottesville High School track and field house, which were given less funding this year than the schools had hoped, were on the list of specific projects.
Buford Middle School, CHS, Greenbrier Elementary, Jackson-Via Elementary and Walker Upper Elementary are all on the project list for daylighting improvements.
Buford, Burnley-Moran Elementary, Greenbrier, Venable Elementary and Walker all are on the list for media center renovations.
Division staff ranked each item’s priority by which of the division’s strategic plan goals it served, its fiscal impact and whether division staff perceived the project would be a positive for students and the community.
Division staff had previously estimated that the CHS track and field project alone could come with a nearly $2 million price tag, according to planning documents from earlier this year.
“What we did not want to have happen was to let a lack of funding get us down,” Gillaspie said. “If you advance a project and it does not get funded, that’s that, but we want to have things teed up when there is money.”
After the Aug. 30 work session, the School Board at its September meeting will approve one or two projects for submission to the city’s overall Capital Improvement Plan.
The timeframe this year is tight, Gillaspie told the school board, but the committee will continue working over the school year to be better prepared for next year’s CIP process.
“We are a little bit behind on this, and the timing is not great because this is our first year [taking this approach],” he said. “Folks put a lot of time into this and there are a lot of ideas there, so it is an exciting time.”
Board member Adam Hastings said he would like to see if some of the proposed projects could be folded into the division’s regular budgeting process.
“When we get to the budgeting stage, I would like to see how we as a board can prioritize the top items on this list with our other budget items,” he said. “It would be interesting, as things start winning out in this race, to see how we can inject them into the budgeting process.”
The committee is composed of Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins, Gillaspie, four division teachers, one principal and Anna Towns, of the Clark Elementary parent-teacher organization.
City facilities development officials Mike Mollica and Scott Hendrix also will sit on the committee, as will two as-yet unnamed School Board members, a business community and University of Virginia representative and one parent.
Five of the 16 seats on the committee have not yet been filled, a city staff report showed.