RPS superintendent proposes 2027 completion date for George Wythe High School

Education
Jason Kamras

Jason Kamras joins Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney for a COVID-19 update on August 12, 2020. (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras proposed a timeline for the construction process of George Wythe High School during Monday night’s school board meeting.

According to Kamras’ proposal, George Wythe would open in the Fall of 2027, with the demolition of the existing building and the establishment of the new outdoor athletic facilities completed by the Fall of 2028.

This timeline comes after the School Board voted in April to take the reins on new school construction, a responsibility previously held by the city.

The school board approved this change, despite opposition from Kamras, who said RPS did not have the staff to open the new George Wythe High School as quickly as the city could.

Kamras said Monday that to create the timeline, he consulted with the city’s Procurement and Public Works offices since they are already working together on other school projects, and because of their expertise. Kamras also stated that he had conversations with RPS Facilities personnel.

School Board Member Jonathan Young criticized Kamras for the George Wythe project taking longer than school construction in Henrico and Chesterfield Counties.

The superintendent responded to Young’s comments, saying that he thought they were done with “the us versus the counties thing.”

Kamras went on to explain that it is not an “apples to apples comparison.”

He told the board that he has been “honest and consistent” with sharing an anticipated 2027 opening date. “It is the decision that the board made and I’m doing everything I possibly can to bring it to fruition as fast as I possibly can,” Kamras said.

The superintendent went on to say RPS has received approval from the Virginia Department of Education for three new positions to help with school construction, which are now posted.

School Board Members Stephanie Rizzi, Kenya Gibson and Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed also criticized Kamras’ timeline.

Rizzi asked Kamras if it would be possible to use a prototype design for the new George Wythe High School in hopes of speeding up the process.

Kamras said that could be a possibility. “I am eager to get a Director of New School Construction on board so that individual can do a lot of the exploration that you just suggested.”

Gibson said that Kamras working with the city on a timeline is a conflict of interest. “I want to see the [school] administration act in a way that is clear that this is an independent body,” Gibson said.

“What else was Superintendent Kamras supposed to do?,” Board Member Liz Doerr later asked, saying RPS does not have the expertise to create a construction timeline without help.

Dr. Harris-Muhammed then proposed a motion for Kamras to provide a request for proposals (RFP) for design of the new George Wythe High School within 60 days and a groundbreaking date of December 31, 2023. “I don’t trust the timeline that you have provided,” she told Kamras.

Kamras responded by saying he could not make either deadline. “I would have to stop a lot of procurement activity and that means we will not [re-]open successfully,” he told the board.

The superintendent said that he has been pouring much of his time and energy into the reopening of all schools post-COVID after hearing from the board that this was their number one priority.

“I simply don’t have the capacity on the team to put out an RFP on something as massive as a $140 million school,” Kamras said.

The George Wythe project could impact and potentially delay other school building projects, Karmas said. However, this will all depend on how much the school board chooses to invest in developing a construction team.

After back and forth discussion between board members, Dr. Harris-Muhammed amended her motion of an RFP proposal to 90 days and groundbreaking no later than December 31, 2023.

Following further discussion, she withdrew the motion.

The School Board has not discussed Mayor Levar Stoney and three city council members suggested compromise for the city and RPS to work together in order to open George Wythe by 2024.

At the board’s last meeting, members voted down a motion to discuss the proposed compromise.

8News reached out to the Mayor’s Office for comment and is awaiting a response.

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