By Carla Branch
alexandrianews.org

The Alexandria City School Board on Dec. 20 approved a $478.5 million ten-year Capital Improvement Program budget with a request for $42.6 million for fiscal year 2020. The Alexandria City Council will consider the School Board’s request as part of their overall FY2020 City budget next year.

“It’s going to take collaboration with the City as well as community support to make sure we can provide proper long-term solutions to the issue of growing enrollment — a positive problem to have — as well as the issue of deferred maintenance and aging facilities. It’s going to be essential for our next School Board and City Council to work hand in hand to help us find space and fund urgently needed repairs,” said School Board Chair Ramee Gentry.

Alexandria City Public Schools has a current ten-year CIP budget of $474.7 million, which City Council approved in May. That budget includes $27 million CIP allocation for FY2020. The School Board proposal would increase that amount by $15.6 million for next year but would only increase the FY2020-2029 CIP budget by $4 million dollars from what is currently approved for FY2019-2028 CIP budget.

The School Board’s $478.5 million ten-year Capital Improvement Program Budget provides funding for the high school project, the modernization of three elementary schools, a new school to be used as flexible space during construction, an additional school in the out-years of the CIP, and a modernization of the transportation facility. The budget closely follows the city-wide recommendations made last fall by the Ad-Hoc Joint City-Schools Facilities Investment Task Force and ensures the overall capital goals of the city and school division remain aligned.

The  FY2020 CIP allocation of $42.6 includes soft costs for the high school project, upgrades to the security management system and cameras across all schools and buses and the addition of several new buses to accommodate growing enrollment. The Board has also allocated funds in 2020 for renovation work at George Washington Middle School, and general repairs and upgrades at Francis C. Hammond Middle School, John Adams and Matthew Maury elementary schools and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. Jefferson-Houston School and James K. Polk, Samuel W. Tucker, William Ramsay and Charles Barrett elementary schools, as well as Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy and both campuses of T.C. Williams High School will also receive funds for upgrades to their facilities. Mount Vernon Community School will receive almost $2.5 million next school year to complete work identified in the November 2018 building assessment and a kitchen update. The rowing facility for T.C. Williams will get an upgrade to the fire alarm and sprinkler system.

“It is essential that we have transparency, and innovation as well as continuing collaboration with the City to resolve our maintenance and capacity challenges. It is also important to recognize that the community may not see changes overnight and we need to remain realistic about what is achievable. It will take time and patience to set things on the right footing but we are very confident that we are moving in the right direction,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

The School Board has called on the City Council to make both school capacity and upkeep a priority and identify funds to address urgent needs outside of the budget cycle. ACPS is simultaneously juggling the two issues of capacity and maintenance and will need to find comprehensive ways to resolve both over the next several years. The Board is requesting that City Council consider a mechanism to address urgent non capacity needs such as establishing a reserve fund for repair and renovation projects that could be used if needed in the future. ACPS is currently conducting building assessments of all schools that will provide an up-to-date, comprehensive view of the condition of all its facilities and is concerned that the condition of some buildings may have changed since the last facilities assessment in 2014.

Over the past two years, ACPS and the City have established joint planning that allows discussion of land acquisition, possible grade level configurations, site suitability and best use of City and ACPS assets. This will continue next school year.

The CIP will now be discussed as part of the City’s budget process, including a Public Hearing at City Hall on Monday, March 11 at 4 p.m. City Council will adopt the final budget on May 1, 2019.