NEW KENT – Much to the dismay of the New Kent County School Board, the Board of Supervisors will maintain control of the historic high school renovation project.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday (October 15) to keep control of the project's next phase, rather than hand it over back over to the School Board, and to create a subcommittee that includes both Supervisors and School Board members.
"I've given a lot of thought to it...and I understand the concerns of the School Board, but in the interest of bringing this project at the cost the county can afford, I believe we can do a better job," said District 3 Supervisor Jimmy Burrell. "Of course, we will have the School Board with us to give input in what they'd like to see, but, I think we will do a better job managing it."
Supervisors have allocated $8.5 million to the project; $2.65 million for phase 1 (currently being completed) and $5.9 million for phase 2. The historic high school renovation project scope includes gutting the existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing system, as well as stabilizing the entire building, for an upper elementary school (serving grades 3-5).
Though initially intended as a School Board project, Supervisors voted on September 28 to "manage the next phase of the historic high school renovation project, with input from the School Board."
The two boards met on October 8 in a joint session, where the School Board asked for ownership of the project and questioned the Supervisors' actions. Supervisors deferred action until October 15.
According to District 5 School Board member Dr. Gail Hardinge, the School Board was disappointed in the decision, but "anticipated it."
"For over a year, the Supervisors have demonstrated that they prefer a PPEA [Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002] process," Hardinge said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We really were in a no-win situation."
Even if the Supervisors had relinquished control over the project, Hardinge believes it would still have been "an uphill battle" with the Supervisors.
"The School Board was being painted as inappropriate with money, but the School Board has a quite consistent track record of coming in behind budget and before deadline," she said.
"We have evidence-based decision making. We are the biggest employer in the county, are responsible for children's safety, and, like the Board of Supervisors, are also accountable to taxpayers."
Despite their concerns, the School Board has every intention of cooperating with the Supervisors and being "transparent" throughout the entire renovation process, with open public meetings and recorded minutes.
"In the past, the process hasn't been very transparent, and many of the meetings were canceled. So now, the public will know when we have meetings," Hardinge said.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.