IWCS central office renovation stalls

Published 5:49 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A lack of funds has stalled plans to convert two wings of the former Hardy Elementary into Isle of Wight County Schools’ new central office.

According to Deputy Superintendent Christopher Coleman, just under $1 million is needed to complete the project.

Site plans from 2021 for the two-story Hardy that now stands adjacent to the circa-1961 school had called for saving the old school’s gymnasium wing. The plans were updated earlier this year to save an additional wing added in the early 1980s to create an L-shaped building that would house a climate-controlled warehouse and bring the division’s administration, special education and technology departments under one roof.

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The division’s administration has since 2004 been housed in an 11,500-square-foot modular office building behind Westside Elementary. The special education department is in its own trailer and the technology department presently occupies four classrooms at Smithfield High School. Saving and renovating the two newest wings of the old Hardy would roughly double the division’s available administrative space to 22,000 square feet.

The School Board had earmarked a $2.3 million state school construction grant IWCS received in 2022 as the project’s source of funding. Over $2.1 million of the grant money has already been spent or encumbered, more than half of which went to expenses unrelated to the renovation.

Isle of Wight County supervisors and the School Board each named representatives in September to a committee tasked with finding a new way to pay for the project. The committee held its first meeting on Oct. 17 but has yet to identify an alternative source of funding.

“There is no money to continue forward at this juncture,” said Dick Grice, who serves with Rudolph Jefferson as the Board of Supervisors’ two committee members.

How was the grant money spent?

School Board Vice Chairman Jason Maresh, who serves with board member Denise Tynes as the School Board’s representatives on the committee, shared a breakdown he and Coleman created of how the grant funds have been spent to date.

Just under $865,000 in grant funds has gone toward the central office renovation to date. In February, the division put just under $138,000 toward procuring architectural drawings for the project from RRMM Architects, the same firm that designed the new Hardy Elementary. The division approved another $62,750 to add warehouse doors to the old school’s gym in August. That same month, the division approved just over $664,000 to M.B. Kahn, the company that served as the new Hardy’s construction management firm, for a series of change orders related to the central office renovation.

Another roughly $735,000 in grant funds went toward construction costs related to the new Hardy that weren’t covered under the $36.8 million guaranteed maximum price the supervisors approved in 2021.

The largest single expenditure unrelated to the old Hardy or the new one came in February when the division pulled $151,700 from its grant funds to cover the unexpected expense of replacing the gym floor at Smithfield Middle School when it started buckling.

The division pulled another $90,000 from the grant to cover the cost of replacing the chairs in Windsor High School’s auditorium. Another roughly $69,000 went toward creating preliminary plans for replacing Westside Elementary and adding artificial turf at Smithfield High School’s football field. The division’s plans for Westside and the SHS football field are also now on hold.

Over $14,000 went toward buying replacement components and reinstalling interior door barricades. The division had spent $64,658 in 2018 to equip 718 doors across its nine schools with “Lockdown 1” barricades manufactured by the Michigan-based company Nightlock. The company markets the devices as being able to withstand 1,600 to 2,000 pounds of force during shelter-in-place events.

The division had removed the locks in 2019 after receiving an email from the Virginia Department of Education warning of potential conflicts with state fire code. The division received the go-ahead from the State Fire Marshal’s Office this March to reinstall the locks, and by June had ordered replacement parts.

As of Oct. 17, Maresh and Coleman had identified $915,700 in estimated costs to fund the remainder of the central office project.

Will the project move forward?

As of Oct. 18, most of the circa-1961 Hardy, save for the two newer wings slated for renovation, had been demolished to make way for a playground and bus parking area that will serve the new school.

Grice maintains that the plan is still a “wise investment.”

“The question is funding that investment,” he said.

From 2018 through July of this year, the division leased a non-climate-controlled warehouse at nearly $4,500 per month to store personnel, student and financial records. As of January, the division had received quotes ranging from $700,000 to $1.5 million to build a detached warehouse.

Superintendent Theo Cramer had recommended in December that the School Board avoid the expense and end its need for rental space by instead renovating the old Hardy gym to serve the same purpose.

The county’s capital improvements plan also presently budgets $2 million for replacing the modular central office with a brick-and-mortar building near the county courthouse sometime between fiscal years 2028 and 2032. This too could be accomplished years ahead of schedule and at a lower cost by instead renovating what remains of the old Hardy, Cramer had said.

Coleman, at the Oct. 17 meeting, estimated building a turnkey 22,000-square-foot central office from the ground up at the current market rate of $450 per square foot would cost $9.9 million by comparison.

The committee members discussed applying for additional state grants to fund the remaining costs and possibly completing the renovation in phases.