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Members of the Lafayette High School community may have convinced Williamsburg-James City County Schools officials of its need for an auxiliary gym, but they won’t see funding for the project in the next budget if James City County’s proposal is adopted as-is.
Though James City County’s proposed Capital Improvements Program allocation of $5.8 million to the schools is $1 million more than the schools requested for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1, the big-ticket items differ.
WJCC’s approved CIP includes an auxiliary gym for Lafayette High and delays the replacement of Norge Elementary’s HVAC system by one year. County Administrator Bryan Hill’s proposal, which the JCC Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt May 10, includes the HVAC system and does not include the gym neither in next year’s budget nor the out-years of the 10-year program.
That gap became the focus of Friday’s joint meeting of the supervisors, school board and Williamsburg City Council at the Stryker Center, which started with a presentation from WJCC regarding its approved budget for next year.
While no one disputed Lafayette’s need for an auxiliary gym, there was no consensus on when or how to fund it.
The city’s proposed budget fully funds both the operating and CIP requests from the schools.
In its CIP projections, WJCC estimates the HVAC system would cost nearly $3.6 million and the auxiliary gym would cost about $2.5 million.
Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown), the first to speak after the presentation, questioned both the decision to prioritize Lafayette’s auxiliary gym over Norge’s HVAC system and the various decisions that have been made over the years that have continually delayed the gym project.
“[The gym] seems to be a critical need, and I’m curious also why it wasn’t on the previous CIP,” Onizuk said. “As you probably know, we went through a very in-depth budget cycle last time around. We made some very difficult choices, but this wasn’t on our radar screen.”
The conversation, which also touched on concerns regarding the accessibility of athletic facilities for Lafayette programs when James Blair is demolished as part of the fourth middle school project, rarely deviated from that topic for the rest of the 90-minute meeting.
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Constantino said the decision to prioritize the Lafayette auxiliary gym over the HVAC replacement at Norge came after a discussion with technicians who said the HVAC system is in good enough condition to continue operating for another year.
Because he wanted to base his decision regarding an auxiliary gym at Lafayette after the county finishes its strategic plan, Hill said he decided to include the Norge HVAC system in next year’s budget and not allocate any funding to the gym in its 10-year projection.
“Having Norge in [fiscal 2017] allows us, James City County, to do other things in the out-years,” Hill said. “You slide Norge back one year, your dollar amount then changes to a $9 million CIP request from the schools [in fiscal 2018]. We can’t do that based up on the things we need and we planned for in that year.”
Pushing back the Norge HVAC system replacement could result in a multiyear delay because of expected projects in the county, outside of the schools, in fiscal 2018 and beyond, Hill said.
Hill urged the school division to be mindful that “dropping in” unplanned projects inevitable affects planned projects, which prompted Onizuk to ask that the boards “have a realistic conversation about the funds available.”
Mary Minor, who represents the Powhatan District on the school board and previously served on the school board from 1998 to 2005, said the auxiliary gym is only new to those who are fairly new to their respective boards.
“At some point in the 10 years since I left the school board, [the auxiliary gym] was lost. The only reason it’s a drop-in for you is because you’re new,” Minor said to Hill. “The only reason it’s a drop-in for this board is because they’re relatively new. For members of this community that have been here a long time, it was an ‘oops’ and a correction of an ‘oops.’ … This auxiliary gym is to correct a mistake that the elected bodies made.”