CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville is preparing to invest tens of millions of dollars into school reconfiguration, and it wants to hear people’s wish lists and concerns.
On Wednesday night, the city school system held a community kickoff meeting where contractors hired for the project and some school board representatives heard from their constituents.
The Zoom kickoff started with an admission: this community outreach is a lot different than it was expected to be at first when the reconfiguration plans were finalized pre-pandemic. But those from VMDO Architecture, which is working on the project, say it’s needed now more than ever before.
“We know a lot more now about what teachers and students need from their spaces to be successful, so quite simply, we know that Buford and Walker aren’t good learning environments,” said Michelle Amt, VMDO’s Director of Sustainability. “They’re just what’s left. What they inherited.”
In front of over 60 participants, representatives from VMDO Architecture, school board members, and community members discussed the when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of the project, which will move fifth grade to elementary schools and sixth grade to middle schools.
“Construction’s going to last a couple of years and most likely come in a sequence where we have to do one campus first and then the other so we can move students around,” said Wyck Knox, a project manager with VMDO.
Knox says he’s proud to be doing this work in the company’s own community, but it will take time. He says they’re working on getting funds to move construction up from 2024 to 2023. Knox says in some ways, that can be helpful as upcoming elections for city council, and then school board seats, will force candidates to think about the project.
“Reconfiguration should be something that everyone who’s running for council, everyone who’s running for school board, has a position on,” he said. “And there’s a price tag attached to that position.”
There’s no exact dollar amount just yet, because there are still several different design approaches being considered.
But the stakes are high.
“This is one of the reasons why we’re so excited about this project,” Amt said. “It’s our kids - our community’s kids, our personal kids, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get it right.”
School Board Chair Lisa Larson-Torres was in attendance and chimed in a handful of times. She says her goals for the project are to have state-of-the-art learning environments and healthy spaces to support community and a sense of belonging.
Additional meetings of the Community Design Team are set for June 2, June 15, July 6, July 20, August 3, August 17, and September 21.
Both city council and school board will take action on the conceptual design in October.