The Richmond School Board on Monday approved a plan that will use millions in recently discovered money to fix leaking roofs and failing HVAC systems, as well as complete Superintendent Jason Kamras’ “bathroom blitz” and buy school buses, among other pressing maintenance needs.
Earlier this month, the city and Richmond Public Schools disclosed that the school system had $22.3 million in its accounts at the end of June for capital improvement projects, including $7.7 million allocated specifically for school maintenance — $6.9 million more than RPS thought it had left in its coffers.
“This is great news. Great, great news,” said School Board member Cheryl Burke, who represents the city’s 7th District. “This will allow us to do things we need to do.”
The school district was given $1.56 million this year by the city for school maintenance.
The accounting discrepancies were discovered, according to school and city leaders, after the two groups came together to reconcile financial accounts. On Monday, the RPS administration blamed different account names and processes for the discrepancies.
“It’s a shame that some of these investments weren’t made earlier on, but I’m glad we’re in a position now to do them,” said Scott Barlow, the School Board’s 2nd District representative.
Since the Aug. 9 disclosure of the newly found money, the Richmond education community has wondered how exactly the money would be spent as the district’s 44 schools continue to fall apart two weeks before the start of the school year.
RPS will use a combined $9.4 million from its current school maintenance fund to replace old chillers, leaking boilers and roofs, and replace some heating and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems, among other things. Nearly half of the school division’s buildings will get some sort of upgrade.
The maintenance projects will also require the reallocation of $5.3 million from the district’s planning and construction fund, an account that has $12.2 million in it. The reallocation requires City Council approval.
The work is expected to finish by the end of next summer. The School Board delayed action on spending $1.5 million to make upgrades to the Arthur Ashe Center, which was built in 1982.
To install new water fountains and hydration stations across the school division, RPS will spend $1 million in maintenance money already earmarked for lead abatement. The school division plans to finish installing the fountains and stations by the start of the school year.
Water testing conducted by RPS earlier this year revealed that four water fountains and 47 sinks in city schools have shown high levels of lead.
The school division says it is on track to add 300 hydration stations and water fountains.
Last month, Kamras announced a “bathroom blitz” — an effort to beautify the school division’s decrepit bathrooms — and asked businesses and nonprofit organizations for help.
Under the School Board-approved maintenance plan, the division will spend up to $350,000 from its maintenance fund to finish the blitz by the start of the school year.
Since Kamras’ announcement, families and community members have worked on the initiative. In a separate presentation Monday, Chief Operating Officer Darin Simmons Jr. said RPS is on track to replace the following by Aug. 25:
- 200 paper towel dispensers,
- 150 toilet paper dispensers,
- 150 soap dispensers,
- 244 faucets,
- 144 sinks,
- 20 stall doors,
- 200 stall locks, and
- 100 ceiling tiles.
After paying off its school bus lease earlier this year, RPS wants to buy more school buses.
The district has $771,000 left in its bus lease fund, which would need to be reallocated — and approved by the City Council — for the purpose of buying nine buses.
More than 4 in 10 buses currently in use are at least 14 years old, meaning they’re older than the industry recommendation for replacement — and 1 in 5 buses are 20 years old or older.
Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
RPS has a little less than $1 million to make ADA upgrades. It’s the lone fund without a set plan.
Huguenot High School’s gym floor isn’t the only athletic space in RPS with problems.
The Huguenot floor has been replaced after a lost season for the school’s sports teams because of water damage. Now other schools are getting similar help.
The following schools will get gym floor upgrades during winter and spring break at a projected cost of $176,000: Armstrong, George Wythe, John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, Community, Franklin Military Academy, Lucille Brown, Binford, Albert Hill, Elkhardt-Thompson, Westover Hills, Overby-Sheppard and Chimborazo.
John Marshall High School will get a new, eight-lane track next spring because “the current track is literally gravel” and has just six lanes, said Simmons. The projected cost of the track is $350,000.
The football field at Thomas Jefferson High School will get a $55,000 upgrade.