Mar 7, 2023 - Politics

Richmond mayor urges school system to speed up construction

Stoney introduced his proposed city budget yesterday. Photo: Ned Oliver/Axios

Mayor Levar Stoney issued a pointed challenge to city school board members yesterday: Start building.

Why it matters: Infighting over plans to replace George Wythe High School in South Richmond delayed the project by at least three years.

  • And in that time, the cost has ballooned to an estimated $154 million — an amount one school board member said would make it the most expensive high school in the state.

What's happening: Stoney made the remarks when he introduced his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

  • It includes a planned $200 million allocation for school modernization, the bulk of which would go to George Wythe.
  • And an additional $15 million would ensure Fox Elementary can be rebuilt despite an insurance shortfall.

What they're saying: "It is my hope that the school board will act swiftly to begin construction [on George Wythe and Fox] as soon as humanly possible," Stoney said.

  • He noted that if construction had begun when initially proposed, students would be entering the new building next year.

Flashback: Stoney first proposed rebuilding Wythe in 2020, but a disagreement with the school board over the size and who should manage construction meant work never began.

  • The school board argued for a smaller building for 1,600 students in hopes of keeping costs closer to $116 million, per the Richmond Free Press.
  • Stoney proposed a 2,000-seat school at a cost that was then estimated at $140 million.
  • They eventually reached a compromise last year, agreeing to split the difference and build an 1,800-seat building.

The other side: School Board Member Jonathan Young said he agreed with the mayor that the cost was too high, but said Stoney shares the blame for the delays by insisting on a larger building.

  • "My colleagues need to value engineer the heck out of this project to cut costs," Young told Axios. "It's absurd to spend $154 million on just one school."

Zoom out: Stoney's budget also includes $21.1 million in new funds for the school system.

  • That's less than the $28 million increase requested by the school board but still a 10% increase over last year.
  • Stoney's administration noted local school funding had increased by 46% since he took office, which he said compared well to the 23% increase in state funding over the same time period.

The budget proposal also includes more funding for community centers, affordable housing and parks.

  • Stoney also proposed an 8% wage increase for most city employees.
  • If enacted, Stoney said the lowest paid city employee would make more than $18 an hour.

What's next: The budget now goes to the Richmond City Council for review and amendments.


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