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Stoney, RPS debate over George Wythe construction timeline

Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay
Posted at 11:55 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 11:02:54-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he wants a new George Wythe High School built sooner as opposed to later. However, the school board disagrees.

Stoney met with residents pushing for the construction of the new high school inside a southside church.

Southside resident, Rev. Garry Callis, was one of several that argued the 65-year-old school is in dire need of structural repairs and new technology.

"I walked those halls back in 1970 myself and then my son graduated in 1999, and now it seems my grandson is scheduled to go there as well. That's a problem," Callis said.

Last month, Stoney proposed a plan to help Richmond Schools build a new high school by creating an RPF that would begin the process of taking bids for the design and construction of the new school.

Stoney says a collaboration would benefit RPS and the school board by assisting with the procurement process and raising funds. Stoney pointed to past successful partnerships, including $150 million generated from a sales tax increase in 2018, that allowed the construction of three new city schools.

However, the school board rejected the plan.

In the spring, the school board announced it would take over the construction of new schools.

"The goal has always been to open up a new George Wythe in the fall of 2024. We've proved already we could build a school in two years and get kids in them," Stoney said.

While school board Vice Chairman Jonathan Young says his colleagues welcome a partnership to expedite the building of George Wythe, he says the difference of opinion involves the efficient use of space and funds to build more than one school.

"Specifically, there's $200 million in the capital improvement plan for the construction of a new George Wythe and for the construction of a new career and technical high school," Young said.

Young added that funds could also be used to build a new Woodville Elementary School in Churchill at the same time.

School board member Kenya Gibson echoed the same sentiment in a response to the Stoney's meeting Monday night.

"As a board member, I want every student to learn in safe, functional buildings. The mayor has estimated that a new George Wythe will cost the city over $140 million. Meanwhile, Henrico just built two high schools that were each about $100 million," Gibson said. "That $40 million difference is the cost of building another elementary school. We cannot use our resources this way and claim the moral high ground."

The mayor claimed that the school board rejected his proposal for political reasons and would be more efficient with the city's help. He argued the school board would have the final say in choosing a contractor, but the city could help get the ball rolling.

"To wait until you hire your construction team and hire your procurement team, do you know how long that's going to take?" Stoney argued. "So why don't you do what we can today and then when you're ready and your staff is ready to go, I'll gladly hand the process off to schools."

The meeting will be held on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the current George Wythe High School.