Projected school cost goes down
Consultant: Walton replacement elementary school can fit on existing school’s site
PRINCE GEORGE — The cost of building a replacement elementary school at the School Board’s preferred location has gone down after school officials identified an alternative architectural design that will eliminate the need to buy additional acreage.
Doug Westmoreland with Moseley Architects reported to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the alternate design can be built on the existing William A. Walton Elementary School property and will allow the existing school to remain open while the new school is under construction.
Westmoreland noted that the School Board had planned to build the Walton replacement according to the design used for the county’s newest elementary school, North Elementary, which opened in 2007.
However, that design would require the addition of six acres to the Walton site at an estimated cost of $475,000. In September, the Board of Supervisors rejected the Walton site, based in part on that added cost, and voted to support a location on Middle Road that would cost about $575,000 less to develop.
Since then, Westmoreland said, his firm — which has been a consultant on the project since it was first proposed — identified an elementary school design used in other localities, such as Yorktown, that provided about the same square footage as the North Elementary design but had a smaller footprint, mainly by eliminating the school’s central courtyard.
With the need to buy land eliminated, the site development cost for the existing Walton site would fall to just $100,000 more than the Middle Road location, a difference of 1.7 percent.
School Board Chairman Robert Cox noted Tuesday that keeping Walton at its
current location would have the additional advantage of eliminating any need to redraw school district lines, a process that he said is “going to be chaotic.” He noted that a different location could mean longer bus rides for students, which already run close to an hour for some students.
The Board of Supervisors took no action this week on the replacement school project, which isn’t expected to get underway until 2020.
Discussions, and disagreements, about the project have been going on for more than year, however, since a Core Committee — composed of members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors, teachers, parents and other residents — determined that Prince George would need two new elementary schools by 2025 to replace the aging and increasingly crowded Walton and L.L. Beazley Elementary.
In February of this year, County Administrator Percy Ashcraft included a capital spending item of $29.1 million for a new school to replace Walton in his proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, along with a 5-cent increase in the real estate tax rate to fund the project.
Not surprisingly, many county residents objected to the tax increase, including some who said they agreed with the need for new schools but wanted it to be funded some other way.
The point became moot, however, when Cox told supervisors in April that construction of the Walton replacement would not need to start until 2020. The Board of Supervisors then adopted a budget that didn’t include the school or the higher tax rate.
Subsequently, the School Board adjusted its construction cost estimate for any new elementary school upward by about $3 million to $32.1 million due to changes in the proposed design.
Several other sites have been considered for the replacement school, including the Yancey tract at the corner of West Quaker Road and Prince George Drive and the Buren property adjoining Scott Memorial Park and Beazley Elementary. Earlier this year, Fort Lee offered the county a site on the Army base, which is located in the county and served by its school system.
The School Board initially recommended the Yancey tract, but it was later determined that the cost to extend water and sewer service to the property would run around $2 million, making it the most expensive proposed site to develop.
Supervisors in September voted to support the Middle Road site, which had the lowest estimated site development cost. In addition, some supervisors suggested that the Walton property — located a short distance off U.S. Route 460 — might offer the county a bigger benefit if it were sold for commercial development.