Funding for School Overcrowding Remains Elusive 

click to enlarge Thompson Middle School

Scott Elmquist

Thompson Middle School

School officials are clamoring for the start of a $169 million facilities plan to address growth in the South Side, but city ledgers show little money for the effort.

No funding has been set aside for school planning and construction for fiscal year 2017, which is a stark change from the $18 million adopted for 2016. The line item joins two other ongoing capital projects -- the city’s Riverfront Plan and 911 emergency communications facility expansion -- that won’t be receiving capital funds that year. The cuts represent a combined reduction of $19 million from fiscal year 2016.

City finance staff broke the numbers down at council’s annual budget retreat Monday, a week after council met with school officials to discuss the school division’s facilities needs.

The $169 million plan is the first step in a three-phase overhaul, and includes the construction of two elementary schools, the closure of five and major renovations to one. A new middle school is also on the wish list, and could occupy the site of the former Elkhardt School. This would come in light of rapidly growing enrollment projections at the merged Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School. Over 15 years, the division aims to construct seven schools, close 14 and renovate two, which is estimated to cost about $563 million.

During the Oct. 12 meeting, Tommy Kranz, the assistant superintendent, called the situation at Elkhardt-Thompson “a freight train that’s getting ready to come down the pipe.”

He said that all of Richmond’s schools south of the James River would soon be at capacity.

New schools wouldn’t be the only thing coming up short in 2016. School maintenance, street and sidewalk maintenance, alley improvements and city fleet maintenance were also hit by $10.4 million in budget reductions. The city’s capital budget for 2017 shrank by 52.4-percent -- a difference of $46 million.

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson said that she wanted know exactly which projects the $10.4 million budget reduction would hit. Such a list could be used as a planning tool to prioritize projects, she said.

Councilwoman Kathy Graziano said that city is suffering the consequences of putting capital needs such as schools and street maintenance on the back burner.

“For so many years we ignored these things,” Graziano said. “We really need to think of the ramifications of this for five years, for 10 years.”


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