School plans accelerate

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A city proposal would allow two new public schools to open in 2018 to alleviate overcrowding.

The proposed capital improvements plan, unveiled in Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, would have the city begin funding design and construction for a new elementary school and new middle school in fiscal year 2016. Both schools could open by the fall of 2018.

“I’m just tickled to death,” School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said after the meeting. “We’re excited. We know what we’re doing, and we know how we’re getting there.”

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Last month, the school division’s facilities and planning director, Terry Napier, said the city’s funding schedule would have the middle school opening in fall 2019, with the elementary school debuting much later — perhaps the second half of the following decade.

Debranski said he appreciated the work of city staff who put the proposal together.

“I think you’re going to see a new spirit of cooperation,” he said. “I feel good about it.”

In order to accomplish building the new schools, some other projects would be pushed out. Construction funding for the new downtown library, for instance, now would not begin until fiscal year 2018.

“Schools have taken priority over just about everything for the upcoming year,” Capital Planning and Buildings Director Gerry Jones said during the meeting, responding to a question from commissioner Arthur Singleton about why the library project had been delayed.

The new middle school would be located in the Harbour View area at a site that was designated as a school site when Harbour View was developed, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said during the meeting. At a cost of $25.9 million, it would serve at least 600 students and would relieve overcrowding at John Yeates Middle School.

The elementary school, meanwhile, would cost about $27.3 million, serve 1,000 students and be located near the current Driver and Florence Bowser elementary schools, Roberts said. Both existing schools would be closed, and overcrowding at Creekside Elementary School also would be alleviated, he said.

The city also proposes to give the schools $1 million in each of the next five years for upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in school buildings.

About $19.8 million is planned for schools alone during the first year of the plan.

Also in the first year of the plan are $3.2 million of airport improvements, $679,000 for an aerial ladder truck and $7.2 million in transportation improvements.

Some of the larger transportation projects include an operations and maintenance facility, traffic signal improvements in the Harbour View area, a sidewalk near Lake View Parkway and College Drive, sidewalk improvements in the Shoulders Hill Road area and a connector in the Oak Ridge and Colonial Avenue area.

The plan also includes $11 million in the first two years for a new transfer station, which will be needed because the city’s current agreement with the Southeastern Public Service Authority expires in January 2018.

The full 10-year plan equals about $660 million, a 5-percent decrease from last year.

The first year of the plan is used as part of the city manager’s budget proposal. The rest is updated each year.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan during its Jan. 20 meeting. Following the commission’s vote, the plan will go to City Council, where another public hearing will be held before it can be adopted.