In an effort to better understand the current and future needs of its school buildings, Lynchburg City Schools is moving forward with a $400,000 facilities study.
At its Tuesday night work session, the Lynchburg City School Board unanimously voted to award the contract for the study to Dominion Seven Architects, a Lynchburg-based architectural and planning firm.
Lynchburg City Schools Superintendent Crystal Edwards said the results of the study will be used to inform the division’s future capital improvement projects, as well as attendance zones and placement of future schools.
Steve Gatzke, senior director of finance and operations for the school division, said city and school leaders began discussions about a facilities study last fall and were interested in three main areas of study: a facility condition assessment to review the physical condition of the division’s buildings, a demographics study to analyze the division’s attendance zones and enrollment, and a future of education plan that would predict what education in the city might look like in 20 years and how the division would get there.
Funding for the study will come from the division’s capital improvement plan that was developed by school and city leaders in the fall: $200,000 was budgeted as a line item in the five-year plan, and the remaining $200,000 will be borrowed from the more than $1 million contingency fund in the CIP and replaced by savings from several ongoing smaller projects, Gatzke said. The city owns the division’s buildings, he said, and funds Lynchburg City Schools’ annual capital improvement plan.
“The financing ultimately comes from the city for new buildings, and they want to make sure that we have a plan going forward,” Gatzke said. The study should yield a 20-year report on the predicted needs of the division’s educational facilities, he said.
The cost associated with conducting a study that included all three areas of interest, Gatzke said, was estimated to be about $530,000. In order to bring the cost down to the $400,000 available, Gatzke said officials had to tighten the scope of the project. Ultimately, the future of education plan and field work at Heritage High School, Sandusky Middle School and Sandusky Elementary School were removed from the project.
Gatzke said these three schools still will be included in the report, but field work wouldn’t be necessary because the middle and high school are fairly new buildings, and school leaders already have decided Sandusky Elementary School needs to be replaced in the near future, so including it in the study would be redundant to the work the division already has done.
Gatzke said they felt removing the future of education plan in order to consolidate costs was appropriate because information from the demographics study will help inform school leaders of the future of education in the city, and such a plan could be more appropriate work for the city’s “Task Force on the Future of Education in the City of Lynchburg: PreK-12 and Beyond,” which recently paused its efforts in order to examine its function in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At an October school board meeting, Gatzke said the division’s last facilities study that evaluated all schools was conducted in 1990. In 1998, a study was conducted on the division’s secondary schools, he said.
Dominion Seven Architects designed the new Sandusky Middle School that replaced the original 1966 building on the same site in 2010. The firm also took part in the renovation of Sheffield Elementary School, which was completed in 2000, as well as several projects at the University of Lynchburg and Liberty University.
Gatzke said the firm is “ready to start,” and could begin the study by early August.
A team of engineers will conduct the facilities condition assessment part of the study by going into each school and reviewing the plumbing, electrical, structural and HVAC needs. Gatzke said these assessments will not affect the use of the facilities.
Non-educational buildings, such as the division’s school administration building and transportation and facilities building, will not be included in the study.
“I feel comfortable that we’ll get really good information from this study,” board member Gary Harvey said.
The demographics study, Gatzke said, will look at where the student population is in the city, where trends show families are moving, what school buildings are overcrowded and what schools are underused and what that may look like in 10 to 20 years. It also will analyze the division’s attendance zones to see how they may be reworked to address overcrowding and school placement during the next two decades.
“It’ll be a look at the statistics part of it, and then, hopefully, from that they’ll be able to kind of lay out a path of how we grow or how we progress, put it that way, into the future,” Gatzke said.
Gatzke said the firm should deliver a preliminary report to the school board around mid-November, so the division and city can use early results to help inform the 2022-27 CIP. Results from the demographics study, he said, should come in before the division’s winter break, and a final report will be presented to city council and the school board around February or March.
The next school board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3. The next school board work session is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17.