The Williamsburg-James City County School Board unanimously passed superintendent Olwen Herron’s 2020-2029 Capital Improvement Plan at the work session on Dec. 11.
The biggest item in the plan is building a new elementary school for $38.5 million; buying land, if necessary, would be an additional expense.
Herron recommended building a new elementary school because of projected enrollment growth: elementary school enrollment is expected to be 5,507 students in 2028. Elementary school capacity is 5,470 students, so schools would be 37 students overcapacity.
The School Board discussed the capital plan with the James City County Board of Supervisors and Williamsburg City Council at a joint meeting on Dec. 6. City and county representatives both expressed reservations about building a new school.
Michael Hipple, Powhatan, suggested it would cost less in the long term to expand current elementary schools than to build a new one. In addition to construction costs, Hipple said building a new school will require hiring all new staff, yearly maintenance of another building, and more.
At Tuesday’s Board meeting Corey Murphy, W-JCC’s chief of staff, said the original committee that helped develop the CIP had already looked at expanding the schools.
Murphy said 100 students would need to be added to 7 different elementary schools. Olwen added the district needed to do a major study to determine whether it could add space to elementary schools because there might not be enough land.
Jim Kelly, Jamestown, added even if you added more classrooms on elementary schools, there is still only so much space available. For example, lunchrooms can only hold so many students, even if more classrooms are added.
In addition to space, Murphy said the average cost of expansion would be $2.65 million per school or about $18 million total.
Murphy said while one estimate to build a new school came in at $35 million, the CIP development committee thought building a new school would be closer $20 million. So Murphy said building additions onto schools would cost less, but not by much.
Sue Sadler, Stonehouse, wondered whether redistricting was an option to help ease elementary school overcrowding. Kyra Cook, Williamsburg, said the board had discussed redistricting but decided not to because members did not think it would solve short term — let alone future — space problems.
While the School Board approved the plan Tuesday, it doesn’t mean every item will be funded.
“(The School Board) makes a request and then (the localities) have to respond to that request,” said Kyra Cook, Williamsburg. “They may or may not fund our request, but that’s not abnormal. Sometimes we make a request several times before it gets funded, sometimes we make requests that never get funded and sometimes they push things up and fund them faster than we are asking for.”
Other items on the proposed CIP include:
- Expand Warhill, Jamestown and Lafayette High Schools; and
- HVAC replacements at four schools.
Three items were removed, because they were approved as part of the district’s end of year spending plan at the JCC Board of Supervisors meeting earlier that day.
These items were:
- Removing the well at Berekely Middle School;
- Paving the track at Warhill High School; and
- Redesigning Jamestown High School’s front entrance.
All three projects were suggested based on urgency and safety concerns, according to Barnes. For example, Warhill’s track was damaged recently by inclement weather. It needs to be repaired so Warhill students have a safe place to practice and host track meets.
The localities will need to approve and fund items on the Capital Improvement Plan.
The School Board will have its next work session will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 in room 309 of the Annex of the School Board and Central Office on 117 Ironbound Road.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.