Building projects delayed?

Published 7:10 pm Saturday, February 6, 2010

Suffolk City Council members on Wednesday debated the feasibility of delaying certain projects in the capital improvements plan for more prosperous times.

The capital improvements plan, on which a public hearing will be held Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., includes $505 million worth of improvements over the next 10 years. The document is a 10-year look at anticipated capital improvements needs. Only the first year of the final plan is incorporated into the proposed budget.

While discussing a proposed replacement school for Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools, Councilman Charles Parr announced he favored delaying the project if it made better financial sense than constructing it next year.

“If it makes financial sense to delay it, I’m for delaying it,” Parr said. “I’m not just picking on the schools. I’m talking about any capital projects.”

Other Council members noted the poor conditions of the schools, and the potential benefits that could be reaped from financing options in leaner times.

“From what I’ve been hearing of conditions … would it be better and cheaper to go forward while the interest rates are low?” asked Councilman Leroy Bennett. “The need is there. We need to really consider that instead of putting it on the back burner.”

Potential replacements for the two schools has been discussed for several years, and the City Council and School Board finally came to a consensus that one school is the best option. A site has not yet been selected, however.

“The school needs replacing,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said. “There comes a time when you’ve got to do it.”

City Budget Officer Anne Seward noted delaying the school — priced at roughly $16 million — also would delay conjoined projects such as the $1.75 million joint recreation facility the Parks and Recreation Department hopes to connect to the school.

Operating one new school instead of two old ones will help the school division realize operational cost savings.

Parr pointed out that though the buildings are decrepit, test scores at Southwestern and Robertson are frequently among the highest in the school division.

“The school buildings are not what educates the children,” Parr said.