Thursday, December 8, 2022

Funding Responsibility for Fourth Middle School Not Finalized

James Blair administrative offices
James Blair administrative offices

The City of Williamsburg and James City County have given their blessings to a plan for the joint system’s fourth middle school, but funding for the project has yet to be finalized.

The Williamsburg City Council approved a plan Jan. 8 to construct a 600-seat middle school at the site of the James Blair administrative offices. The James City County Board of Supervisors approved a similar plan at its Nov. 25 meeting.

Although the two boards agreed to move forward with plans to repurpose the James Blair site, the financial contributions required from the city and county have remained unclear.

The resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors calls for the city to contribute 8 percent of the funding for constructing the middle school, and 10 percent of Williamsburg-James City County School’s funding for the next 10 years.

The City Council’s resolution did not include financial requirements for either locality.

Both of those numbers differ from the official requirements laid out in the city-county schools contract, which dictates the municipal funding formula for WJCC. The current contract, which runs through 2017, bases the city’s contribution to the WJCC general fund and construction projects on the number of city students enrolled in the school division.

The city contributes about 9.54 percent of WJCC’s operating budget for the current year.

City Manager Jack Tuttle said the discrepancy between the county’s resolution and the current contract needs to be resolved, and he anticipated working with James City County Administrator Bryan Hill to do so.

“The question for the county, which needs to be discussed, is whether they intend to open the [city-county schools] agreement,” Tuttle said.

A feasibility study produced by RRMM Architects estimated the cost of building a 600-seat middle school at the James Blair site at $29.6 million in today’s dollars, up to $32.3 million taking three years of inflation into account.

The school board recommended a two-phase approach to building a 950-seat middle school, with a cost approaching $61 million. Both localities voted to support Phase 1 of the plan, building a 600-seat middle school at the site. Neither board considered Phase 2, expanding the school by more than a third, during their votes.

If the 8 percent figure stated in the county’s resolution were to be enacted, the city would contribute $2.37 million to $2.58 million to the construction of the middle school.

Hill said the supervisors’ fiscal year 2014 appropriation of $28.5 million, which had been designated for “classroom expansion,” would carry over into the James Blair project, making the county responsible for at least that much during school construction.

Hill said he would be unable to estimate the city’s contribution, including whether the county resolution’s figures would be enacted, until the bidding process for the new school’s design had gotten underway.

“I can’t say it’s set in stone, I can’t say it’s going to change,” Hill said. “All I know is we need to be collaborative to benefit all the children in the Historic Triangle.”

A construction timeline produced by WJCC Schools scheduled the release of an RFP for architectural design for mid-February, with a contract awarded by mid-April.

The board of supervisors, city council and school board are scheduled to hold their annual joint meeting March 11. Hill said he expected the issue of middle school construction funding could come up at the meeting.

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