Richmond School Board member addresses panel’s decision to delay vote on demolishing elementary school

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Commission of Architectural Review in Richmond said they had not reviewed demolishing the old George Mason Elementary School before approving construction of a new building on the same site. The commission is now delaying the vote on demolition and wants the Richmond School Board to go back to the drawing board.

Last month, school board members voted 7-1 to demolish George Mason Elementary School as a new facility is currently under construction next to the current building. 

RPS said the building is in poor condition and the school system wants to replace it with tennis and basketball courts, a playground, and sports field. School board member Kenya Gibson voted against the measure. 

“I voted no because this is just not how it works,” said Kenya Gibson. “It is certainly not typical to be asking permission to demolish a building after construction already started.”

George Mason was the first school for black students in Church Hill. RPS says the school is unique in that the school boasts six separate building projects beginning in 1881. 

Since the school sits in an historic district, the city’s Commission of Architectural Review must review the demo request and approve the application. On Tuesday, the commission decided to delay the vote 

“They’re doing their job and ultimately there’s no winner in this situation,” said Gibson.

The commission wants RPS to explore all alternatives to tearing down this part of the school, which was built in 1922, such as finding a new use, moving it or selling the building.

“Someone needs to acknowledge that they made a mistake,” said Gibson.  “And we need to figure out how to do right by these kids.”

In a statement, Superintendent Jason Kamras said he’s disappointed by the decision and believes every student deserves a quality outdoor space.

“I just think that it doesn’t make sense that we had a commission that looked at the monuments for a year to decide whether or not to tear them down,” said Gibson. “Then we decide to tear down a black school with no discussion at all.” 

The Commission of Architectural Review will meet again on Oct. 22. 

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