Suffolk gets $7.5M in school bonds

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

Robertson Elementary School in Whaleyville is one of two schools that will be replaced with a new school building. The school division this week received $7.5 million in interest-free bonds for the project.

Suffolk has been awarded $7.5 million in no-interest bonds to aid in the construction of a new elementary school to replace Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools.

The Qualified School Construction Bonds are issued by the Virginia Public School Authority to promote construction and renovation projects in 33 school divisions. The school division will be responsible for the principal amount of the bonds but will receive federal subsidies for the interest payments.

“As the news release suggests, the $7.5 million no-interest bond will certainly help to ‘jump start’ the construction of the new elementary school,” Bethanne Bradshaw, spokeswoman for Suffolk Public Schools, said in an email.

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“These allocations will allow urgent and long-delayed projects to move forward and improve the learning and working environments for thousands of students, educators and other school division employees,” Patricia Wright, superintendent of public instruction for the Virginia Department of Education, said in a press release this week.

The bonds will not fund the entire school project. The school system and the city applied together for the maximum amount of $15 million, but they received only half of that amount. The city will repay the debt over a 20-year period.

“The city [capital improvements plan] allocates $17.5 million to the new elementary school; therefore an additional $10 million will still need funding, which will most likely be in the form of regular bonds,” Bradshaw said.

“It’s great news, because it’s at least no interest for at least $7.5 million of the project,” said Mike Brinkley, executive director of finance for Suffolk Public Schools. “That is 43 percent of the project.”

The project has been in the works for years, and the school system is working on selecting a site, said Anne Seward, director of budget and strategic planning for the city.

“The schools are fairly old and in need of attention,” she said. “The first step, of course is for the schools to select a site.”

The city originally set aside about $1.5 million for the site acquisition, but a specific site had not been selected, so the funds were moved to another project, Seward said. The capital improvements plan calls for $1.5 million to be allocated again in July.

“There is no need for the dollars until a site is selected and they are ready to move on that,” Seward said.

The building project will occur in two phases, according to Seward. The first phase includes buying the land and site preparation.

The construction phase is anticipated to cost about $16 million.

“All of this will go into the budget on April 6,” Seward said. That’s the day the city budget proposal will be made public.