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LCS holds off on capital improvement projects at request of City Council
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LCS holds off on capital improvement projects at request of City Council

Only $5 for 5 months

Plans to replace Sandusky Elementary School and renovate Paul Munro and Linkhorne elementary schools have been put on hold after City Council requested Lynchburg City Schools delay funding for the projects for one year.

LCS Assistant Superintendent Ben Copeland said the city already has allocated almost $4.2 million for fiscal year 2019 for several projects, including $1.5 million for Sandusky Elementary design plans.

“We began working on many [FY 2019-funded projects] July 1 of 2018. For this year’s work effort, I think we’re doing great. We just received the architectural design proposals for Sandusky Elementary School this week,” Copeland said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

The city of Lynchburg owns the schools and the property on which they reside, but LCS is responsible for operation and maintenance, Copeland said.

City Council member Jeff Helgeson said during roll call of the Sept. 25 meeting, City Council requested LCS push back renovation and replacement projects from FY 2020 to FY 2023 one year.

“So although we have the design money for Sandusky Elementary School, we don’t anticipate getting the construction money until a year later than we were hoping,” Copeland said.

Helgeson said Thursday he’s glad the school division is “taking that request seriously.” The request came as a result of the storm damage to the city and issues with College Lake and the city trail system, he said.

“We’re starting to look at capital planning and financial planning with the city and with that, we really need and we’re glad they’re following when we ask them to tap the brakes,” Helgeson said. “I’m glad they’re following that because that shows they’re a good partner. They recognize the city’s financial service, debt service ability. It’s good if we can at times tap the brakes and quit spending so much.”

After the one-year delay, Helgeson said City Council will take “one step at a time” in considering capital improvement projects as the city plans for the new $48.4 million Public Safety Complex.

The funding delay has a “significant impact” because it will push back the construction of Sandusky Elementary and the renovations of Paul Munro and Linkhorne elementary schools, Copeland said. Other projects impacted include the renovation or replacement of two elementary school gym additions and a new transportation building.

Sandusky Elementary School was originally constructed in 1964 and had additions in 1967 and 1974. Paul Munro Elementary School was originally constructed in 1962 and had an addition in 1990. Linkhorne Elementary School was also constructed in 1964 and had additions in 1970 and 1988.

“Of all the buildings we currently operate, those three buildings are the only ones that have not had a significant renovation since they were built. They might have had additions done to them,” Copeland said. “But they have not had that renovation cycle that you like buildings to go through.”

LCS was going to apply $20 million to the construction of Sandusky Elementary’s replacement building and $500,000 to Linkhorne Elementary’s renovation in FY 2020. In FY 2021, the division hoped to budget $9.3 million to finish Linkhorne Elementary’s renovation and $400,000 for Paul Munro Elementary’s renovation. In FY 2022, the division planned to budget $7.6 million for Paul Munro Elementary’s renovation.

City Council’s request comes at a time when the school board is starting discussions on the division’s five-year strategic plan, which could possibly include rezoning or consolidation of schools.

“It’d be a shame to build a brand-new school and what not or even at least spend the money on artist renderings, and you can’t [build the school] because it’s in the early process of consolidation,” Helgeson said.

School board chairwoman Susan Morrison said the school board has not had in-depth discussions about consolidation, but it could be a consideration.

“We have had discussions with city leadership — the mayor, vice mayor and city manager — about what schools need to look like in the future and schools fitting the needs of the students. … Nothing is off the table, and we have to do what’s best for our students and our citizens,” Morrison said Thursday.

Morrison said consolidation could possibly come up as the school board discusses its five-year strategic plan and the board’s goal of fiscal responsibility.

School and city leadership have talked about speaking to government leaders in Richmond about possible funding sources, but “we haven’t made plans as of yet,” Morrison said.

Superintendent Crystal Edwards said Sandusky Elementary’s replacement building being larger “opens up the possibility for a lot of creative thinking” around how the division zones its schools and LCS’ alternative programs.

“As I look at Sandusky, while I see this beautiful, state-of-the-art new elementary building that can house more students, I also see possibilities in how we can address some of the other issues that we have. So sliding that a year out slides all my possibilities a year out as well…,” Edwards said.

Some of the other issues include having small class sizes to address “some of these extensive behaviors and some of the trauma some of our kids are experiencing,” Edwards said.

Edwards said she has expressed concern over capital improvement funding with City Council, and she is going before City Council Tuesday to give a presentation on school performance and will share the division’s desire to “reinvest in LCS” with teacher compensation and capital improvement funding.

“At some point even our best Band-Aid is going to give way. We have to be really mindful of the learning environment because it also plays a major role in … test scores and how students perform,” Edwards said. “These are things we’ve put on the table, and we’ve moved. I will say our kids are a very precious commodity. They deserve excellent learning spaces.”

Edwards said she requested capital improvement and teacher compensation be on the agenda for the City Council and Lynchburg City School Board retreat on Oct. 30. A location for the retreat has not yet been determined.

School board member Robert Brennan suggested the retreat be held at Sandusky Elementary School, which board member James Coleman supported.

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