Community members demand action on high school construction with ‘Wythe Can’t Wait’ town hall

Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 11:19 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond city leaders and the school board are still at odds over the construction of a new George Wythe High School. Friday, community members stepped up and demanded action at a ‘Wythe Can’t Wait’ community town hall meeting.

The Richmond Community Coalition is trying to get a plan set in motion as soon as possible for the construction of that new school, criticizing the school board for waiting this long to make it happen.

The rally’s organizer, Robin Mines, says she is not on board with the school board’s slogan “School’s build Schools.”

“Neither schools nor the city ultimately builds schools, it’s Richmond, taxpayers, us who build schools, and we want the new George Wythe built without delay,” Mines said.

Superintendent Jason Kamras says it could take until 2027 to open the new school.

The coalition says all school board members were invited to the town hall to speak directly with those who want the school built as soon as possible, but many board members were absent from the town hall; including those who voted against working with the city, drawing criticism from those at the town hall.

“It’s disrespecting us. It’s making us aware that they have no intention of engaging us, and that what we think and what we want does not matter to them because they’ve already decided,” Mines said.

But School Board Member Kenya Gibson says she doesn’t believe so. Gibson says she received the invitation for the event only three days prior and never knew of the coalition’s existence before the invite.

Gibson was not present at the town hall, but gave the following statement:

“The notion that the schools are unable to have the project built at the same timeline as the city is false. The 2024 timeline they were asserting was never realistic to begin with. The city’s own timeline outlined in their RFP has completion pushed out to 2025 or 2026. They want to blame the school board for this but at the end of the day, high schools take two years to build. The delay has come because the city has not made funds available to build a school until the fiscal year 2024 budget. That’s the reality.”

The school board accused the city of already overpaying for three school renovations, so they voted to take control of this project. However, Mayor Levar Stoney is going around their wishes, requesting design proposals this week for the new building, saying the school board is ignoring public demand.

Though, Stoney admits he can’t legally control the process once the bids come in; he‘s trying to speed up the process, hoping the school board tag teams for future steps.

Earlier this week, 4th district school board member, Jonathan Young, said the board will come up with its own plan for the new high school.

“It’s our expectation that Richmond Public Schools will issue an RFP no later than this year,” Young said. “My expectation is this fall.”

The current school opened back in the 1960s, so he says waiting until 2027 is unacceptable. The mayor’s deadline is as soon as possible.

Members of the board have previously said the mayor’s interference in their plans would “undermine school governance.”

The hope from the coalition now is these town halls will drum up support, which will push the school board and city hall to collaborate together.

Mines says if the school board isn’t willing to work with the city, then it will find leaders who can.

“2024 is not far down the road, and that’s when each seat is up for election, and we are organizing and looking for candidates that will represent their entire district and the city as a whole,” Mines said.

The coalition says it will continue to host town hall in hopes of collaboration.

NBC12 reached out to members of the school board and is still waiting for some to respond while others declined.

The city’s request for school design proposals can be viewed, here.

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