No final Kerr vote before December

Posted: October 30, 2013

The Winchester Star

Kevin McKew, Winchester schools executive director

WINCHESTER — The preferred site is selected, but it will be at least December before a final decision is made on the location of the new John Kerr Elementary School.

At a joint work session on Tuesday night, city School Board and City Council members were apprised of the potential timeline for the approval of an agreement with Winchester-based Shockey P3 LLC to build a new John Kerr building just west of the existing 40-year-old structure.

Other related details remain to be worked out, too, primarily the extension of Nester Drive to facilitate the project and campus.

The council, which must approve any deal to build the school, will discuss the plans in more detail for the first time at a special work session next Tuesday night. The earliest it could vote to approve a construction agreement would be Dec. 10.

The joint meeting was held a day after School Board members voted 4-3 to have the new school built on the 15-acre John Kerr site at 536 Jefferson St.

The selected proposal calls for the construction of a 93,000-square-foot school to accommodate 650 students, with a goal of opening the facility by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

A maximum of $20 million will be spent on the project, which was proposed by Shockey.

The school will be built under the terms of the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA). The design-build model allows one company to be contracted for design and construction services instead of two.

Kevin McKew, the district’s executive director, said school and Shockey officials will begin negotiating a “Comprehensive Agreement,” the PPEA version of a contract for the project. A geotechnical investigation of the site will take place at the same time.

That investigation, he said, is important. Shockey wants to know any below-ground barriers it might face so that information can be considered in determining its price for the work.

“The development team takes full responsibility for what’s in the ground,” McKew said. “They take on that risk.”

The goal is to have the agreement ready for School Board review at its Nov. 11 meeting and for a potential vote as early as Nov. 25.

To accomplish that, McKew said, the draft to be considered on Nov. 11 would have to be “as close to the final form” as possible.

As the School Board works through that process, the council will discuss its issues and evaluate draft versions of the Comprehensive Agreement.

Council President John Willingham said that if necessary, the panel could discuss John Kerr at every meeting until then and call special meetings.

City Manager Dale Iman said that even without the agreement, the councilors can discuss how the proposed site fits with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvements Plan, as well as the economic impact the site would have. Those talks should take place on Tuesday.

“Those, I think, are critical issues the council wants to understand,” he said.

Even if a Comprehensive Agreement were approved by both panels as quickly as possible, McKew said the building might not be completed before the 2015-16 school year begins.

To increase the possibility, officials said, the School Board could decide to start classes after Labor Day that year, and a mid-year transition is possible if the building is not ready.

Nester Drive’s extension also could delay the project. Land at 601 Jefferson would be bought from Scott and Lauri Bridgeforth to extend the street from its Seldon Drive terminus through to the school campus, and to extend Jefferson Street’s cul-de-sac.

That work is not part of Shockey’s PPEA submission. Iman said the company has said it could acquire the right of way and build the street for $1.15 million.

But the city government has planned to use Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing funds for the project, so city officials must determine whether that is allowed if the street extension were folded into the school PPEA or whether it must be offered for competitive bidding.

Though the roadwork does not have to be completed early on, McKew said Shockey needs an unfettered pathway in that area to use as a construction entrance. “We need that access just to build the school.”

The other potential location the School Board considered was a 9.3-acre parcel behind Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, adjacent to the proposed Meadow Branch Avenue extension that would connect the street with Amherst Street.

Berryville’s C&S Design Development LLC submitted that proposal.

The replacement building is necessary because John Kerr needs a new roof, heating and ventilation system, doors, windows, electrical system and fire pump.

The new school would be at least 300 feet from the potential site of a tower the city government must build as part of an upgrade of its emergency communications system.

The Bridgeforths have opposed the placement of the 237-foot tower on the city-owned lot at 700 Jefferson.

Attending the meeting in Quarles Elementary School from the City Council were President John Willingham, Mayor Elizabeth Minor, Vice President Milt McInturff, Vice-Mayor Les Veach and Councilors Evan Clark, John Hill, John Tagnesi and Ben Weber. Councilor Jeffrey Buettner was absent. Attending from the School Board were Chairman John Bishop, Vice-Chairman Erica Truban and board members Richard Bell, Cynthia Ford, Minh Le, Allyson Pate, Melvin Thomas and Mary Margaret Wise. Board member Vincent Di Benedetto was absent.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com