School board adopts expanded capital budget

School board adopts expanded capital budget

By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Alexandria City School Board adopted its 10-year capital budget last week, and requested an additional $46 million to help fund the purchase of swing space during construction.

The $611.1 million budget for the 2018-2027 fiscal years now includes money to fund the purchase and retrofit of office space to temporarily accommodate students and staff while schools are modernized.

It also accelerates plans to modernize George Mason and Matthew Maury elementary schools and the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. Now, modernization at George Mason is set to begin in fiscal 2021, Cora Kelly in fiscal 2022 and Maury in fiscal 2025.

An extra $100,000 has also been added to plan for capacity needs at Alexandria City Public Schools’ middle and high school levels.

Schools Superintendent Al- vin Crawley’s original $515.7 million capital budget proposal had at its center the demolition of the Minnie Howard campus of T.C. Williams High School and in its place the construction of a building for ninth and 10th graders, adding 717 seats at a cost of $118.5 million.

With the extra $100,000, the feasibility study on a new high school building project can begin during the 2017-2018 school year, with the planning process slated to commence in September 2018.

That planning process would start with the formation of an internal work group to create an engagement process and review recommendations from the feasibility study, school day committee and long-range education facilities planning documents. In addition to renovations at the elementary level, which also includes Douglas MacArthur Elementary School on an unchanged timeline, Crawley proposed new elementary and middle schools. The updated capital budget includes $32.8 million to acquire two parcels of land: one for the elementary school and another for a new
middle school.

“The Alexandria community needs to see just what we need to solve all of ACPS’ capacity issues within the next 10 years and beyond,” Crawley said in a statement. “There is no doubt that this is a dynamic and aggressive plan that can only be achieved with the support of our community and city council. We all need to work together to create school facilities that foster vibrant learning, equitable access to academic programming and a strong foundation for our community.”

At the school board’s December 15 meeting, where the budget was adopted unanimously by board members, Crawley said the program is also notable for including a renewed emphasis on preventative maintenance, a painting schedule and discussions on indoor and outdoor play spaces.

ACPS faces a capacity crunch, with enrollment anticipated to rise by 4 percent each year, and not expected to plateau until 2030.

In data provided by ACPS staff during the board’s meeting October 27, the system has 15,354 students in fiscal 2017, and a capacity of 14,036. This seating deficit of 1,318 is set to grow quickly based on ACPS projections, with 17,982 students projected to be enrolled in fiscal 2027 for a seat deficit of 3,946.

The proposed West End elementary school will add 638 seats, after the retrofit of office space on North Beauregard Street. It is slated to open in fall 2018. Preschool centers at John Adams Elementary School and Cora Kelly would add almost 600 seats, with 10 new classrooms proposed at the latter for an additional 221 seats.

The MacArthur would add 221 seats, while George Mason’s modernization would add 232 seats. The new middle school would allow all three middle schools — including George Washington and Francis C. Hammond — to have no more than 1,200 students, while the just-approved Patrick Henry School project will add 234 seats at the middle school level.

At Minnie Howard, Crawley also proposed temporary classrooms to add 150 seats by fiscal 2022, before the full rebuild.

School board chairwoman Karen Graf said that it is a balancing act given the city’s financial constraints and its own capital needs, but that there must be greater cooperation with ACPS.

“We need to have a blended strategy,” she said. “They have municipal needs too, but somehow we’ve siloed as a community. A lot of the city needs and their planning happens, then we do our needs and do our planning. We’re not braiding them together, so I’m hoping we can blend that strategy with the city so over 10, 15, 20 years we’re marching together and communicating together with citizens about what they’re getting for their tax dollars.”

Board members said that while the budget is bold and asks a great deal of city councilors and staff, it is necessary to show what is needed.

“I do feel this budget really does tell a story of what we know and what we recognize in the community as many years of delay while simultaneously many years of increasing enrollment,” said board member Ramee Gentry. “I think we all realize how this is a large budget and a challenging budget, buy I’m proud of this budget, proud of the work this board has done and I look forward to sharing the story of this budget with our colleagues on city council and with the community.”

City council will examine the schools’ proposed capital budget next year while considering its own capital and operating budgets. Crawley will propose his operating budget for ACPS next year.