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Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay

Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay
Posted at 11:54 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-19 00:34:06-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Concerned parents, students and community members gathered at George Wythe High School Friday to call for the Richmond School Board to accept the compromise offered by Mayor Levar Stoney and the city to collaborate in building a new George Wythe High School as soon as possible.

“It’s a sin and a shame that this school looks exactly the same that it looked when I walked these halls 28 years ago,” said Vennie Gates, who spoke at Friday’s community town hall. “We need to build a school, people! This is ridiculous. It’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t make sense."

A crowd formed at the school, holding signs and chanting, ‘Wythe can’t wait!’

The group of citizens and organizations that spoke at George Wythe High School Friday evening made up a newly formed Richmond Community Coalition, responding to a decision made by the Richmond School Board in April to take control of school construction projects without collaboration from the city.

In that April school board meeting, Superintendent Jason Kamras said the decision could delay the construction and completion of a new George Wythe High School by several years, pushing the opening date back from 2024 to 2027.

One of the organizers of Friday’s town hall, Robin D. Mines, said this was just another hurdle in a years-long battle to replace the 61-year-old building. A process she said had been ongoing since 2002.

She called for school and city leaders to put politics aside to get the job done.

“It’s a crime to even have to think about walking into the building,” said Charles Willis, Executive Director of United Communities Against Crime.

He and others at Friday’s gathering said the building was unfit for students.

Earlier in the week, Mayor Stoney announced in a press conference he’d be offering a compromise to collaborate in the construction of the new school.

“We can’t legally build a George Wythe alone. We can’t legally do that. But I can get the process started, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” said Stoney.

On Thursday, Stoney’s administration moved forward with requesting design proposals for the new school.

“The school board will have to join us in this effort,” said Stoney.

On Friday, advocates called for the school board to do just that. Compromise.

“In 1978 I walked these halls. In 82, I graduated from here. My son, he graduated here in 2000. It would be a crying shame if my grandson, 9-years-old, would have to end up in the same school,” said Garry Callis, Director of Democracy Centers of VA.

Dawn Page was the only Richmond School Board Member in attendance at Friday’s town hall. She voted against the measure in April.

“It is time for us to do our job that you elected us to do,” said Page.

In the April 12 School Board meeting -- the five board members who voted in support of the measure said that schools need to be in charge of schools.

They also mentioned issues with the city overpaying construction costs for previous schools they built.

They said the decision for the school board to control construction shouldn’t cause a delay in the building of a new George Wythe High School -- and called on Superintendent Jason Kamras to hire the people needed to ensure the school is constructed in a timely manner.