Officials start from scratch on new school building

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Officials start from scratch on new school building
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With city funding secured for a multimillion-dollar Jefferson-Houston pre-K-8 school, officials are asking the public to weigh in with their suggestions for the new building. 

This piece of land is a great community resource and we want to make sure what we build here, from a physical perspective and from how people interact with the site, gives us the most value for our dollar so that all community members are comfortable, said Helen Morris, a school board member and neighbor. 

We need to be open and take feedback. We need to make sure everybody knows in advance what were doing, she said.

Officials worked to quell a public backlash last summer and fall after word of a potential public-private partnership to pay for the new school sparked outrage from neighbors. A series of community meetings late in the year put an end to any talk of the controversial funding mechanism.

After convincing city officials to add the $39.6 million project to Alexandrias capital improvement plan, its time to go back to the community, Morris said. The project survived a round of city council cuts to the districts 10-year fiscal roadmap.

The next series of meetings, beginning June 1, isnt a result of the public-private controversy, according to Morris. Instead, its part of an effort to keep the community involved in the project, she said. 

David Temple, Alexandria City Public Schools executive director of outreach, said the meetings are an extension of the talks held in the fall. Officials want to discuss possible proposals and ways to keep the community engaged during the process, he said. 

Like Morris, Temple said the meetings did not come as a response to the previous public outcry. Its just the right thing to do, he said.

We want to be sure that we have a means and a process [by] which the community feels very properly involved and engaged as we go and there is a way in which solid communications can take place, Temple said. 

Officials have no concrete plans or proposals for a new school heading into the community discussions, and presenting one would be premature, Temple said. 

Morris also hopes to begin drafting public committees tasked with guiding the process and developing suggestions for what the new kindergarten through eighth grade school will look like when complete. 

The school district has struggled with complaints officials dont communicate effectively with parents and residents. Partnering with them early on is part of the larger strategy to improve connections, Morris said. 

Once theyve gathered suggestions and ideas, officials will begin working with engineers and architects to draw up more concrete plans. They hope to come to the table with a set of criteria for a design, Morris said. The school is slated to open in 2014. 

What does a K-8 school look like from an academic perspective? Morris said. Were putting a committee of folks together to talk about that question and [then consider] how the physical structure [gets] built around that.

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