New John Kerr could be downsized
Posted: February 15, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — With a potential $6 million funding gap to overcome, the city School Board will have to decide whether it will need to build a smaller John Kerr Elementary School than originally proposed.
The topic on whether to build a 650-capacity or a 400-capacity school was discussed at a Winchester Public Schools Building and Grounds Committee on Thursday at the central administration office, but no action was taken.
A feasibility study last year showed that building a 650-student John Kerr would cost about $26 million. City Council, however, has indicated a maximum funding amount for the project of $20 million.
In October, John Kerr had an enrollment of 358 and a capacity of 304. It, like the division’s three other elementary schools, is overcrowded. Projections show that the division’s student population could increase by 20 percent — to 5,000 — by 2022.
“We believe that $20 million is underfunded, and we’ll be in the position to make hard decisions about size,” said Winchester Public Schools Executive Director Kevin McKew.
On Thursday, McKew outlined some possible reductions to cover the $6 million differential.
These include not demolishing the current building at 536 Jefferson St. (which would save about $1.2 million), funding offsite road improvements from other sources (saving about $1 million) and deleting 12 classrooms from the plan to put school capacity at 400 (a savings of $3 million).
The school’s core spaces like the gym and cafeteria would still be large enough for a 650-student school, but instruction space would be reduced with the opportunity to be added on at a later date.
Many board members disliked the idea, stating that it would delay the inevitable and could result in modular classrooms not too far down the road.
Erica Truban called it a “losing proposition,” Allyson Pate cautioned the board about being “too shortsighted,” and Richard Bell called the idea “crazy.”
School Board Chairman John Bishop said the move would be like stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.
“I’m incredibly concerned,” he said.
Further discussion could take place in the School Board Ad Hoc committee meeting with City Council on March 6. Public input will be accepted at the gathering.
The decision on how to cut project costs will likely be decided this summer.
The board has set a goal to open the school by the summer of 2016. Its location has yet to be decided.
When and if Kerr is vacated, potential reuses for the current building include housing for Handley High School’s Career and Technical Education program, Air Force Junior ROTC, alternative Education, and other high school programs.
There is also the chance of using the school for elementary and pre-kindergarten programs or as an annex for the division’s Central Administration Office.
The committee also discussed where the modular containing four classrooms should be located at Quarles Elementary School.
The addition is needed due to overcrowding.
The current recommendation is to put the modular right outside the building’s front steps, in between the building and a paved play lot. A covered awning is proposed to connect the building and the modular.
“Quarles has some very real limitations for siting modulars,” McKew said.
The school is bordered by a city street, and there’s not enough land behind the building on which to put the addition. There’s also topography issues.
Board member Vince DiBenedetto said he hated the aesthetics of placing the trailer in the front of the building, but that maybe it would serve as an “advertisement of our need for space.”
The classrooms should be in place by August.
— Contact Rebecca Layne at firstname.lastname@example.org