Richmond Public Schools plans to appeal a decision last month by the city’s historic preservation body that ordered the district to keep part of a school it wants to demolish.
Chief Operating Officer Darin Simmons on Thursday told a committee overseeing the construction of three new schools in the city that the district wants to challenge the ruling by Richmond’s Commission of Architectural Review, which said the school system must preserve the façade of the 1922-erected section of George Mason Elementary School.
RPS had planned on demolishing the entirety of the school, which is often labeled the worst school facility in Richmond. A new school is being built on the property and the area where the current school sits is slated to hold two tennis courts, a basketball court, a playground and a multisport field.
“That’s our next move,” Simmons said.
That appeal, which will be made to the City Council, will seek permission to demolish the entirety of the current building.
Carey Jones, a senior planner for the city and the secretary to the commission, said she couldn’t comment on RPS’ appeal because one hadn’t been officially filed. Jones did say that it is unusual for applicants to appeal CAR decisions to the council.
The commission voted Nov. 26 to have the oldest remaining portion of George Mason, a school initially built in 1881 and named for a slave owner who authored the Virginia Bill of Rights, preserved. At one point, the school consisted of five separate building projects.
The 1922 structure, which faces North 29th Street, added 12 classrooms to the school.
The commission, both in September when it deferred action on a decision and in November when it ultimately handed down its ruling, criticized the school district for not looking at alternatives to demolishing all of the school.
“The demolition of the entire school complex will remove a physical reminder of the historical development of the area and the public school system,” a staff report on the matter stated.
RPS had proposed using the bricks of the 1922 façade as fence columns for the new school, which is set to open in the fall of 2020. That would, according to the district, add some “unforeseen” cost to the construction, but would be cheaper than keeping the oldest part of the current building.
“Any additional dollars that we have should go toward the maintenance of existing buildings and the construction of new ones — not toward preserving buildings for which we have no use,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras.
Michael McIntyre, who oversees the construction of George Mason for AECOM, an international consultant, said Thursday that a proposal is currently being drafted — with estimated costs — for what the school system would do if it ends up having to keep the structure standing.
The district has until mid-December to formally file the appeal.