Schools Plan Would Cost $419.5 Million 

Don't look now, but as the Richmond School Board and City Hall continue to fight over funding, financial audits and political control, a plan has emerged detailing just how long and how much it would cost to rebuild 14 city schools.

The city schools' administration outlined a construction timetable that could begin in 2008 and be completed in 2014, costing a total of $419.5 million. It was presented to City Council's finance committee last week.

The first three schools scheduled to be built are Broad Rock and New Greene elementary schools, and an alternative school through the Capital City Program. The design would begin in 2008 and take six to nine months; the construction, taking 12-15 months, would be completed in 2009.

All told, the $419 million cost of reconstructing or building new schools is considerably more than the $180 million capital improvement plan City Council approved last year. For the first time, it puts a price tag on the construction costs of the rough plan first pitched by Mayor L. Douglas Wilder in his now-infamous "City of the Future" address in January 2006.

"We spent a great deal of time in 2006 putting this together. There were four public hearings and fantastic feedback from the community," School Board Chairman George P. Braxton II says. "This is the work that I believe we were elected to do. Unfortunately, there are other distractions that can get in the way of that."

As of Monday, however, the School Board and Wilder's administration were still haggling over plans for a second financial audit. To raise the ante, Wilder last week decided to withhold school funding.

Still, there may be light. City Council President William J. Pantele says City Council is interested in a capital-improvement plan for city schools that targets existing infrastructure as outlined in the School Board plan.

"We've heard a lot of big announcements, but now it's actually time to get it done," Pantele says. "If the administration desires a different plan, then it needs to bring that forward. If it doesn't, this is the only plan before us."

Meanwhile, if the bickering ever stops, City Hall isn't exactly married to Wilder's proposal to spend $169 million on two new specialty high schools. Last week, Chief Financial Officer Harry Black said the proposal wasn't "set in stone."

Braxton's ready to take the next step, he says. "It is a solid foundation to begin a very serious discussion on addressing the school's infrastructure needs," Braxton says.

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