City, County Funding Split for WJCC Fourth Middle School Remains Uncertain

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James Blair administrative offices
James Blair administrative offices

The James City County Board of Supervisors approved a budget last week for fiscal year 2016, but it remains unclear how the county and the City of Williamsburg will split the cost to construct a fourth middle school.

Several factors that will determine the total cost to construct the Williamsburg-James City County school division’s fourth middle school have not yet been settled, including a specific funding formula between the two localities to pay for school construction, an adopted budget in the city and final design work on the building.

WJCC operates through a joint contract between James City County and Williamsburg. While the contract specifies a funding split for the school division’s operating budget, it does not lay out a formula to split the cost of building new schools between the two localities, leaving them to negotiate a price. As of last week, those negotiations had yet to commence.

“My understanding is there have been some preliminary discussions at the staff level, but no formal negotiations,” Deputy City Manager Jodi Miller said.

The localities also remain apart in their budget processes. The county’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which comes into effect July 1, included $21 million for the middle school project. County Administrator Bryan Hill has said that figure is a placeholder and could be changed by the Board of Supervisors.

The city has not yet approved a budget. Williamsburg’s proposed capital improvement plan, which oversees spending on major construction projects, lays out about $2.6 million for fourth middle school construction, but that figure could also change. The City Council is scheduled to adopt its budget May 14.

If the city keeps its contribution for the middle school to the $2.6 million originally proposed and James City County maintains its $21 million figure, the city and county would contribute about 11 percent and 89 percent, respectively, to cover the costs.

WJCC projected it would need $25.8 million for the project, but has acknowledged the figure could change.

The school district has had two periods of major expansion in the last 10 years, with the addition of Matoaka Elementary and Warhill High schools in 2007 and J. Blaine Blayton Elementary and Lois S. Hornsby Middle schools in 2010.

James City County covered about 90.5 percent of the construction costs of Matoaka and Warhill, and about 96.7 percent of the totals for J. Blaine Blayton and Lois. S. Hornsby.

Lois S. Hornsby, the division’s newest middle school, was built with a capacity of about 900 students at a cost of $40.9 million.

The school division has proposed building a fourth middle school at the site of the James Blair administrative offices, which previously served as a middle school until Hornsby opened in 2010.

The final design of the school also remains undecided. Superintendent Steve Constantino developed a plan to transform the offices into a middle school over two phases through 2024 at a total cost of about $61 million, but a final design of the concept has yet to be presented.

The plan approved by the school board and OK’d by the city and county would add a three-story wing onto the building to accommodate a 650-seat middle school by 2018 in phase one, allowing the offices and school to function at the same time.

The second phase of construction would see the demolition of the existing central office structure, which dates back to the 1950s, and its replacement by an additional wing to expand the middle school’s capacity to more than 900.

The School Board selected Virginia Beach design firm Waller Todd Sadler to draw up architectural plans for the building April 22. The design work should be completed in time for the bidding process to begin on the construction phase of the middle school in January 2016.

The school division’s CIP projected the cost of phase one of the middle school’s construction at about $25.8 million.

The final cost of the fourth middle school has yet to be finalized, but recent history suggests James City County may cover more than 90 percent of the costs.

The county has contributed at least 90.6 percent of the construction funds for the school division’s four newest schools, dating back to 2007.

That figure about lines up with the funding split laid out by the joint schools contract, which requires the county to cover 90.5 percent of the division’s budget and assigns the remaining 9.5 percent to the city, although the contract does not specify a funding split for school construction.

The resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors in November approving phase one of the school’s construction called for Williamsburg to fund about 10 percent of the WJCC operating budget for 10 years, and cover about 8 percent of the construction costs of the new middle school.

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