Newport News School Board to seek $143 million for school repairs, renovations

.@nnschools votes on $143 million capital plan request on June 21

The School Board plans to ask the city for more than three times the amount last received for capital improvement funding.

The plan, which covers fiscal years 2018 through 2022, calls for close to $143 million in funding for school repairs, updates and a substantial, $60 million renovation of Huntington Middle School.

The 2017 through 2021 plan, which begins July 1, comes in at $42.4 million.

Huntington opened as Huntington High School in 1939; the building is one of five the division built before 1950.

The division estimates that to transform the building to an appropriately sized facility with modern technology for the approximate 520 students it houses would take $60 million, plus $2.8 million in design costs.

"Huntington is a school that if you drive by and you really start looking at it, you have to ask yourself, 'Is that the best facility for our middle school students in the middle school community?' " Chairman Jeff Stodghill said at a School Board meeting on Tuesday. "And I think it's really hard to come up with, 'Yes, it is, and it's the best we can offer.' ...

"(The proposed CIP) is a big number, but it's a big school division, and we have a lot of children, and we need to be in the 21st century for what they need," Stodghill said.

City Manager Jim Bourey said it was too early in the process to know how much of the schools' request can be granted, but said it could go up from the currently allotted $42.4 million.

"There's an interest by the City Council and the city in general in increasing the amount to the schools," Bourey said. "But realistically, without some major additional revenue, it can't go up a huge amount."

Asked whether it could increase to at least $50 million for the next funding cycle, Bourey had no comment. The cycles are five-year plans, but funds are appropriated on a yearly basis.

The $142.8 million plan also calls for $34.7 million to replace HVAC systems in 17 schools, $16.4 million to replace 16 roofs and $8.2 million in ADA compliance upgrades.

The needs of the aging buildings, Director of Plant Services Keith Webb said, are not going away.

"We need about $17.2 to $34 million annually to kind of keep up with what's deteriorating around us," Webb told the board. "We're not funding it at that level. If we don't get some significant increase for our capital funding, our maintenance costs are going to increase. Our buildings are not going to get in any better condition."

For fiscal year 2017-2021, the city gave the schools $42.4 million of the $80.5 million requested. Bourey's recommended capital plan included $41.4 million, but after hearing pleas from school officials, the council directed Bourey to find an extra $2 million for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.

Bourey ended up transferring $1 million in capital funds from the Development Department to the School Division, he announced last month.

School officials, although thankful for the $1 million, were under the impression that they would be getting more, Stodghill said.

"We asked for $4 million in December and were under the impression we were getting $2 or $3 million," Stodghill said. "We did get the $1 million, but it's still $39 million less than what we asked for (over the five years)."

Stodghill considers many items the city plans to fund in its five-year capital plan to be less important than repairs to leaky roofs and aging HVACs at school buildings. The schools' capital needs make up 21 percent of the city's overall CIP plan.

"They're doing a lot of good projects," Stodghill said. "But a lot of these you do in a community where you have the luxury of extra capital. I don't think you do them when you're basically starving the school maintenance budget."

Stodghill pointed out the following examples from the city's approved fiscal year 2017-2021 capital plan: $4.7 million in downtown initiatives, $300,000 on an archaeological study of former City Farm land, $8.3 million for a Denbigh Community Center pool, $12 million for a new Grissom Library, $4 million for a golf course renovation and $3.57 million toward funding Atkinson Boulevard to connect Jefferson Avenue and Warwick Boulevard north of Richneck Road in northern Denbigh.

"I see it as a bridge to nowhere," Stodghill said of Atkinson. "That's not where the traffic problems are."

But Bourey said the new road, which will mostly be funded with state grant money, will greatly reduce traffic in the northern part of the city.

"This new roadway will serve as a reliever for other roads such as Denbigh, Oyster Point and Bland but also serve to balance traffic on the north-south arterials and I-64, especially when there is an incident on any of these roadways," Bourey said. "It will also serve to increase the capacity for travel to accommodate growth in the city."

The Tech Center Research Park is slated to receive the largest chunk of city funds, not counting grant funds, at $36.65 million over six years.

The School Board will vote on approving the proposed capital plan at its June 21 meeting; it will then go on to the city for consideration.

Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951; Clift can by reached at 757-247-7870.

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