School facilities study to begin

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, February 6, 2020

City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to spend nearly $400,000 to pay for a school facilities assessment and master plan.

RRMM Architects of Chesapeake will perform the study, with the money coming from available funds left over from the completed Col. Fred Cherry Middle School project and the Department of Planning and Community Development professional services line item in the current general operating budget.

The study calls for all of the division’s facilities to be assessed for current and future needs. The study is also expected to review the division’s attendance zone plan to evaluate how to make the best use of its facilities without sharp increases in costs.

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During a joint meeting of the council and School Board, RRMM Architects president Duane Harver said its study would start by asking whether Suffolk Public Schools has what it needs in the locations it needs them, based on their condition, capacity, educational adequacy and anticipated population change.

“It could be anything that comes out of this — it could be renovations, it could be consolidations, additions, new schools, replacements, programmatic,” Harver said. “We’re going to have a very objective analysis with this. We’ll present the information, and others will make the decisions based on the information that we put forth. We’ll also provide costs for whatever options seem to make sense.”

Harver said he wants to ensure that any costs for additions, new schools or other needs are accurate projections that would be useful for the city and school division.

He said it plans to meet with stakeholders within the city and the school division to map out what they want to accomplish in the study, collect data through facility assessments, demographic research and looking at the division as a whole and its standards.

The data it plans to collect includes enrollment by grade in the last 10 years, along with transfer data to charter and non-public schools. It will also include live birth data, population trends and housing data, school division demographics, geographic information systems and school specific data related to class schedules, curriculum and programs.

It will also collect the floor plans of each school and identify space usage and functionality while calculating capacity and make assessments on the condition of facilities throughout the division.

Harver said the study would go in three phases, with recommendations and conclusions by early December.

“We want to make something very actionable and useable for you all,” Harver said.

Board member David Mitnick said he was concerned that there was no mention of rezoning during the presentation.

Harver said there would be information provided that would be useful in determining whether to rezone schools, but there is no full-fledged rezoning component to its study. There would be an additional cost to do a rezoning study through RRMM’s partner, Cooperative Strategies.

“If it were me, my advice would be to get through the study, see what we present before you go that route,” Harver said, “and see if there’s information that you can use in a common-sense approach to rezoning.”

Councilman Tim Johnson asked how approved developments that aren’t yet built would be factored into the RRMM study. Harver said proposed and ongoing developments would be factored. A five-year timeframe would provide a more accurate assessment, Harver said, though it could go up to 10 years.

Councilman Mike Duman said that with most projects not coming online within the next 10 years, the study needed to project further out.

“We need to ensure that we’re not coming up with a study, that, by the time schools are funded and funding’s available … is basically not that relevant at that time.”

Duman said it was also critical that both the board and council were on the same page in terms of the study’s expectations.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said the goal would be to take a cost-effective approach in responding to the results of the study so that the assessment process does not need to be repeated in the near-term.

“Based on the results of the study, that’s going to be the evidence that we’re going to use for actionable items,” Gordon said. “And then the only challenge we’re going to have to look at, as both groups, is the best return on our investment for us.”