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After a months-long campaign to improve athletic facilities at Lafayette High School, students, parents and coaches secured a $1.25 million commitment from the James City County Board of Supervisors toward construction of an auxiliary gym.
The decision came Monday afternoon during a budget work session.
Sue Mellen, the county’s director of financial and management services, presented Board members with two ways the county could include the proposed gym among the Capital Improvement Plan projects it would finance in the upcoming fiscal years: either the county could delay other WJCC School Division projects in the CIP, including preventative maintenance, and estimate a higher surplus from the schools, or allocate $1.25 million in bond revenue to the project.
The $1.25 million is part of $26.75 million the county is looking to generate in bond revenue to finance construction of the fourth middle school.
The majority of the bond, $25.5 million, would cover the county’s contribution to the project, while the $1.25 million “cushion” would go toward the gym’s construction costs, which have been estimated to be about $2.5 million.
The Board agreed it would be more cost effective to borrow more money at one time, rather than attempt to borrow money for the gym later, and that it would more affordable to build the gym now.
Still, many members asserted that better planning and communication need to take place before future capital projects, particularly new facilities, should be approved.
“Because of the fortunate timing of the fourth middle school bond issuance, I am willing to fund the gymnasium even though this is a last-minute addition to this CIP and this budget,” said Board Chairman Michael Hipple (Powhatan) in a prepared statement. “This cannot become the norm and is a one-time fix. If this happens again, I will ask that the Board completely rethink how we fund the schools.”
The Board voted unanimously to amend the bond so staff would request financing for both the fourth middle school and the auxiliary gym. Staff will go out to market Wednesday to sell the bonds.
To reach the estimated $2.5 million, County Administrator Bryan Hill said WJCC Schools Superintendent Steven Constantino has “committed” $1 million from the school division toward the project. The City of Williamsburg would contribute $200,000, Hill said.
“I’m just so happy this was a collaborative effort,” said Kristan Holm, treasurer of the LHS Athletics Booster Club. “That’s what we wanted all along.”
Holm and Booster Club President Kathy Woollum attended the work session. Woollum said it made sense that financing for the gym was coupled with financing for the fourth middle school, as both are new facilities that will contribute to the community.
“This is going to enhance our area,” Woollum said. “Everyone will benefit from that.”
The gymnasium is one of three projects members of the Athletics Booster Club championed in November as the WJCC School Board crafted its 10-year CIP. It was ultimately included in the plan and chosen as a top priority project by the JCC Planning Commission but was not included in Hill’s proposed budget, as he did not want to fund new facilities until after the strategic plan was adopted.
The project became the focus of several public meetings, including a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors, School Board and the Williamsburg City Council.
Most recently, City Vice Mayor and City Council candidate Paul Freiling said in a WYDaily Q&A that there must be “a plan to remedy the significant disparity in athletic facilities between Lafayette High School and [Jamestown and Warhill high schools],” one that will “only be exacerbated with the loss of access to the assets at James Blair” when the former middle school is demolished this summer.
A second budget work session, scheduled for May 4, was canceled following a unanimous vote. The Board of Supervisors will vote to adopt its Fiscal 2017 budget May 10.