School division presents updated costs, timetable for new school

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: October 24, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

Proposed school cost hovers between $32 – $35 million, per latest data

PRINCE GEORGE – On a backdrop of “chronic” air quality issues and a renewed push from Walton Elementary School parents and teachers wanting to see progress made toward constructing what would likely be the school’s replacement, Prince George County Public Schools and the county school board presented updated data on soon a new elementary school could be built and how much the new facility would cost.

Prince George High School served as the alternative host venue for last week’s school board meeting as school division and school board leaders expected parents, teachers, and others to turn out in numbers to hear updated guidance on plans to replace one of two elementary schools, namely Walton Elementary, which PGCPS and school board representatives have stated on a number of occasions is beyond its useful life.

The presentation came nearly a week after the county board of supervisors announced they were working jointly with Fort Lee in pursuit of a property near the A Avenue gate of the military installation that they and school board chair Robert Cox, Jr. stated was a suitable and viable location for what is expected to be Walton Elementary School’s replacement. The school dates back to the 1960s and presents its own safety challenges given its design as an open-campus facility and now, of late, health concerns as mold spores and heightened CO2 levels in some classrooms have forced students and teachers to shuffle locations over the last two school years as school employees and contractors work to fix issues inside the aging building.

Before diving into the updated numbers and figures of the project, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff detailed how the school system got to this point with the elementary school proposal, reflecting back to the 2017 core committee analysis and eventual presentation to the Prince George Board of Supervisors in August of that year where that committee and school board leaders recommended the construction of two, 750-student schools, along with a proposal to renovate Prince George High in order to extend the life of the building, which was built in the 1970s.

Since that August 2017 presentation, the student capacity of the one school being eyed for development and construction has risen by 100 to 850 as of last week’s presentation, with Pennycuff explaining during her presentation that the increase in size, the equivalent of roughly four classroom of 25 students each, would help toward the elimination of trailers at the school and help to relieve overcrowding at South Elementary School by roughly 100 students, given that Walton’s current enrollment is 570 students who are currently educated inside a school with a capacity of 600.

The presentation compared the new elementary school to North Elementary, which school board members said in 2017 would be used as a guide in the design of the new school, noting that the school is currently designed for 754 students, with 728 in K-5 education and the remaining 26 in Pre-K. For this new school, 814 students could receive K-5 education along with 40 Pre-K students, for a total design capacity of 854 students at an additional cost of $1 million to the project’s price tag.

That price tag, according to Pennycuff and Moseley Architects representative Doug Westmoreland, would largely depend on how quickly site development and construction could commence on the project, providing parents and others on hand for last Monday’s meeting a walkthrough of two financial runs that looked at site finalization occurring by March of 2020 and January of 2021, with the latter being in line with county and Fort Lee projections of when a land transaction for property near the A Avenue gate would be completed, if approved by the Federal government.

If, according to Mosely’s projections, the school division were to have a site for the school by March of next year, roughly five months away, it’s estimated that design and other engineering steps could take place through the remainder of 2020 and eventually head to bid for contractors by February of 2021, with a projected completion date of January of 2023, resulting in a mid-school year move for students and teachers at Walton Elementary, with a final price tag of $32.9 million.

If a site isn’t attained until January of 2021, which is in line with estimations based on ongoing Fort Lee talks in regards to the A Avenue property, the project would then head to bid in January of 2022, with a completion date of September of 2023, roughly nine months later and carrying an additional $2.1 million price tag, raising the final total of the school to $35 million, with Westmoreland explaining that increase is tied to an inflation projection of approximately six percent.

While efforts to select a site remain ongoing and have been since at least the early part of 2018, Pennycuff said the school division will make a $1.8 million request from supervisors this week to help pay for architectural and engineering services related to the school’s development, which includes design development, preparing the project for bid, wetlands delineation, stormwater management, and other required activities.

“If a site was selected today,” Pennycuff’s presentation detailed, “it would take two years minimum to have a school completed on an accelerated schedule. This would put the move-in at January 2022 as the earliest possible move-in date.”

She also stressed, if the school were to be built on one of the two Fort Lee properties being looked at, the school would not only be made up of military families and would continue to reflect current enrollment at the school, which shows roughly 160 of the 570 students at Walton Elementary as being Fort Lee students, or approximately one in every three Walton students being from military families.

That funding request was scheduled to be given this past Tuesday during supervisors’ work session period, with Chairman Donald Hunter commenting earlier this month that the board would be “inclined” to provide that funding, so as long as he and his fellow board members knew “what they need in terms of preliminary [engineering].”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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