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City to request design proposals for new George Wythe High School

Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 4:30 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 11:35 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond’s Mayor is planning to sidestep the school board to expedite the construction of a new George Wythe High School.

Mayor Levar Stoney says on Thursday, his office will begin seeking companies to design the school, in hopes of getting students in a brand new building as soon as possible.

He admits he can’t legally control the process once those bids come in, but beginning the process is basically a formality to speed up the search, with hopes school leaders will collaborate with the city once those bids come in.

“My administration will release the RFP for design services tomorrow and begin early site work in early weeks so that we reach our goal of getting kids into a new state-of-the-art George Wythe High school as soon as possible,” Stoney said.

It comes after school leaders decided not to work with the city to build a new school. School leaders say that responsibility is theirs. Yet they understand it will delay getting students into a new George Wythe High.

Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch spoke at a Swansboro neighborhood meeting last week, which hinted the mayor might do this. “

Calling on the Mayor to release the RFP anyway and move forward. That leaves us open to a lawsuit and it would be awful…But we can’t give up,” she said.

So how are school leaders responding?

“It’s our expectation that Richmond Public Schools will issue a RFP no later than this year. My expectation is this Fall,” Jonathan Young, Vice-Chair of the School Board said. He says there are important decisions the board and community must make first. “First and foremost is size, capacity of the building. The prevailing wisdom is that we should build a 2,000 student George Wythe, but the truth is we don’t have 1,500 in the current building…The last thing in the world we want to do is spend additional dollars on a facility with vacant seats when instead we could allocate those dollars, those limited resources to - for example - erecting a new elementary school.”

As for the board’s decision to cut the city out of the process?

“Schools should build schools,” Young added.

Wednesday evening, Councilwoman Lynch released a statement saying, “Schools don’t build schools. The people do.”

Community leaders have planned a town hall meeting at George Wythe on Friday. They’ve invited the school board and city council members to ask why they can’t collaborate.

Previously, the city claimed it could get the new building constructed by 2024, but with the school board voting to take sole control of the process, the superintendent says it may not be done until 2027.

“This timeline is not acceptable,” said Mayor Stoney. “Not to me -- and especially not to the families and children of the Wythe community.”

Proposals from design firms will be due 45 days after Thursday’s request release.

Several community rallies have been held to urge the city and school board to work together so a new George Wythe can be built as quickly as possible.

The Richmond Community Coalition released the following statement:

“The Richmond Community Coalition supports the decision by Mayor Stoney to issue a RFP for the design of the new George Wythe High School. This step is essential if construction is to be completed by 2024 as planned.

“We remain hopeful that the School Board and the City of Richmond can reach agreement on further steps in the process so as to give George Wythe students the school they need and deserve no later than fall 2024. Compromise is often the key to progress and we hope the adults can reach an acceptable compromise so that our children do not suffer.”

The coalition is hosting a “Wythe Can’t Wait” community town hall with the Richmond school board and city council members on Friday, June 18 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at George Wythe High School, 4314 Crutchfield Street. More information can be found here.

Richmond City Councilmember Stephanie Lynch said she supports the mayor’s efforts to keep the construction “on track.”

“At the end of the day, this is not about School Board, or Mayor’s Office or City Council -- this is about our students and putting politics aside for the betterment of the community. Schools don’t build schools, the people do -- the community does,” Lynch said in a release. “That is who I stand for and I appreciate the voices and advocates who have shown their strength in holding our city officials accountable to do the same.”

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