A vote to award a contract for construction management services Tuesday night evolved into an opportunity for Williamsburg-James City County School Board members to voice their support for or against the proposed fourth middle school.
The $558,300 contract, which was ultimately awarded to Fairfax-based MBP by a 5-2 vote, includes construction management services onsite during the construction of the 600-student school and a monthly update to the School Board on construction progress.
Before the vote, Board member Sandy Young (Berkeley) said she still had a number of questions about the proposed fourth middle school that she felt needed to be answered before the Board could “respectfully respond” to the construction management request.
She distributed a list of 19 questions to fellow Board members. The questions request justification for the proposed school as well as information on the total cost of the project, enrollment projections and any potential re-use of the former James Blair Middle School.
“We have a need to make sure everybody understands how we got to this decision,” Young said. “I’m opposed to going forward with granting a contract until these questions have been answered fully.”
Board Chairman Jim Kelly said Young’s request was “noted,” but the Board moved to award the contract without answering the questions. Young and Board member Holly Taylor (Stonehouse) cast the only dissenting votes.
During Board considerations and directives, Young reiterated her concern while four of her colleagues asserted their support for the proposed school.
Young said she “objects to the fact” the School Board doesn’t “want to take the time to answer these questions” and suggested a referendum would have been appropriate before the James City County Board of Supervisors authorized a lease financing plan for the fourth middle school.
“If that was submitted to the taxpayers then I would be more willing to listen to this,” Young said.
Board member Julie Hummel (City of Williamsburg) said she appreciates how much time has been put into planning for the fourth middle school as well as the opportunity to hear different perspectives.
“Please respect my opinion and the vote I will be making to support the fourth middle school, as well,” Hummel said.
Board Parliamentarian Jim Beers acknowledged the “different opinions, different sets of information and numbers, some generated by the [school division] and some by very well-meaning people in the community” but also asked that his ability to interpret the information be respected.
“This thing has been going on for eight years. Many of the very same questions that are being asked now were asked then and were answered,” Beers said. “I think this is the right time and the right kind of school for our students as we go forward.”
Vice Chairwoman Kyra Cook said her support for the project comes from her confidence in previous boards and administrations as well as “good financial planning” on the part of James City County and the City of Williamsburg.
She said overcrowding will not go away and trailer classrooms are not the solution, recalling the concern she felt for the safety of trailer classroom students during last month’s tornado watch.
“We can look at James City County’s finances and enrollment projections all day long, but they both seem a little myopic to me,” Cook said. “I think we should also look around us.”
Kelly said the fourth middle school is the only topic that has recurred through his six years on the School Board. He said the population is growing and the risk of running out of room for students should “scare the community.”
“There is a lot that goes into the community that we all want to be a part of and live in,” Kelly said. “Schools are just a piece of that, but it’s an important piece of that.”
Cook, Kelly and Superintendent Steven Constantino will meet with the James City County Board of Supervisors during its March 22 work session to answer questions about the fourth middle school. The meeting begins at 3 p.m. at the JCC Government Complex.