School Board to vote Tuesday on financing of fourth middle school

Ryan McKinnon

JAMES CITY— Eight years of debate surrounding the construction of a fourth middle school could take one more step toward closure Tuesday, as the School Board will vote on a resolution to approve the financing of the project.

A majority of board members have said they favor the project, with only Sandy Young and Holly Taylor voicing opposition. The resolution's passage would give the board the funding to enter into a contract with a construction firm to partially demolish the James Blair facility.

Superintendent Steve Constantino is recommending that School Board members review proposals and award a bid to a construction firm at its April 19 meeting.

The district's 2015-16 capital budget includes $28.6 million for phase one of the construction project, which includes demolition of the current structure at James Blair.

Under the terms of the resolution, the county and school district are asking the Economic Development Authority to sell bonds, as they have in the past other large-scale projects.

The county will then set aside funding each year to pay the EDA back, and the county will sign the lease of Toano Middle School over to the Authority as collateral.

Known as a lease/leaseback deal, the county has used a similar mechanism to finance the construction of Matoaka and Blayton elementary schools and Hornsby Middle School, according to the School Board agenda.

"For counties our size it is frequent that they use this type of mechanism," said Sue Mellen, the county's Financial and Management Services Director. "We have never defaulted on a payment. We are a AAA-rated community -- the highest rating you can get, and you cannot get that if you ever default on a bond."

Since the School Board, Board of Supervisors and EDA are all parties to the arrangement, each public body will vote on the bond resolution independently, Mellen said.

The supervisors vote will take place Tuesday as well, and the EDA will vote Thursday. All three have to ratify a resolution in order for the deal to go through.

On Tuesday the School Board will also discuss awarding the contract to demolish part of the facility at James Blair so construction on the new middle school could begin.

The School Board is scheduled to review several other capital improvement projects in anticipation of awarding bids on April 19. The projects include replacing the roof at James River Elementary, Clara Byrd Baker Elementary and Jamestown High School and refurbishing the interior of Clara Byrd Baker.

The projects were approved last year and money was allocated in the fiscal year 2016 capital improvement plan.

The capital improvement plan is a 5-year preventative maintenance plan contained within the proposed budget. The Board of Supervisors has yet to vote on this year's capital improvement plan.

The first public hearing for the budget is on April 26 and the Board of Supervisors will vote on the budget on May 10.

McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

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