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RPS Will Design Its Own George Wythe, Rejecting Mayor’s Proposal

Three people seated
School Board Members Kenya Gibson (left) and Jonathan Young (center) sit beside Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras (right) at a 2019 meeting. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Richmond School Board voted Monday to create its own request for design proposals for the new George Wythe High School, rejecting the city’s pre-existing RFP submitted by Mayor Levar Stoney in June.

The board voted 5-4 in favor of a proposal by Board Member Jonathan Young to request designs for a new GWHS that can accommodate 1,600 students, giving Superintendent Jason Kamras an Aug. 31 deadline to issue the request. They’re also calling on the administration to start work on redesigning both the Career and Technical High School and Woodville Elementary School by Oct. 31.

Young’s proposal also authorizes Richmond Public Schools to put together an evaluation panel to review the GWHS design proposals and award a contract for the project. The group would include the superintendent and the yet-to-be-hired facilities planner and director of facilities.

As the board discussed Young’s proposal, Kamras voiced “significant concerns” over the suggested capacity of 1,600 students for GWHS. He says the new building should be built for 2,000 students, or else the board will have to build another high school in the near future.

“The current student body is over 1,300 students, and the student body has been increasing on an average by nearly 100 students per year for the last three years. It suggests that by the time the school would open, it would open overcrowded on day one,” Kamras said.

Young said the 1,600-student capacity is based on enrollment projections by the district’s demographics consultant, who predicted the student body at Wythe would grow to over 1,500 students, but cap at 1,600.

The superintendent slammed the deadlines for issuing the RFPs as “unrealistic,” since RPS does not yet have a full in-house construction staff. He called the overall resolution “a mistake” that will prevent him from focusing on other policy issues like the district’s in-person reopening this fall.

“I’m tired of talking about George Wythe. It is extremely important, but there are many other important things that we need to address,” Kamras said. He also criticized the board’s decision to bump GWHS to the top of the meeting’s agenda, delaying a discussion on the division’s literacy strategy.

Regarding Kamras’ timeline concerns, Young said his proposal seeks to create a collaboration with the city through which the school district can rely on the city’s resources, experts and human capital.

“The mayor has said not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but probably 101 times, that his admin is most willing and capable to partner with us relevant to school construction and that he would put his entire team at disposal to that end,” Young said.

Kenya Gibson, who first proposed the Schools Building Schools resolution back in April that kickstarted the debate over school construction, voiced her support for Young’s proposal.

“I am extremely excited that not only will we move forward with design development for George Wythe, that we will also move forward with design development of these other schools,” she said.

Before approving Young’s proposal, the board rejected a different resolution by Board Member Liz Doerr. Doerr suggested the school board should move forward with the mayor’s RFP and take him up on his offer to take over construction once the district has a full team.

Doerr’s resolution failed by a 5-4 vote. She voted against Young’s proposal, which she believes will delay the reconstruction of GWHS beyond when the mayor claims he could have it ready.

“I think that if RPS has to issue the RFP, it will delay because the superintendent and the administration do not have the staff in place to issue the RFP,” Doerr said.

Following the vote, Stoney criticized the board in a statement and said the new plan will continue to delay the reconstruction of George Wythe.

“Tonight’s vote doesn’t give students and their families any more reason to hope that a new school will be built one day sooner than the 2027 timeline outlined by the superintendent. Our students and families deserve better,” the mayor said.