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Charlottesville takes next step in Buford/Walker reconfiguration

The city of Charlottesville is officially seeking proposals on how to renovate Buford Middle School and Walker Upper Elementary as part of a broader reconfiguration plan that could be one of the largest capital projects for the city in years.

Proposals are due Jan. 30, and the city is planning to seek funding approval from the City Council next summer, according to the request. The contracted firm will assess the two schools and craft preliminary designs in order to give the council a reasonable cost estimate.

“Based on these design documents and estimates, City Council will either allocate funding for further development and construction, or the project will be terminated,” city staff wrote in the request for proposals, which was released this week.

The school division wants to add sixth grade to Buford, send fifth grade back to the elementary schools and centralize preschool at Walker. Officials have said such a project would be transformative for students and help to address persistent achievement gaps and equity issues.

The request for proposals was released a year after the School Board said it would support reconfiguration and seek funding from the council. The idea has been floated off and on for the last decade.

If funded, the project could be done by the 2023-24 school year, according to the schedule in the RFP.

A 2017 growth and capacity study from VMDO Architects estimated that the reconfiguration plan could cost $55 million to $80 million.

This year, the council allocated $3 million for planning and design efforts.

Michael Goddard, a senior project manager with the city, said he doesn’t think the city will spend all of that money before the council decides whether to move forward on the project. The RFP stipulates that the firm should design 35% of the project in order to take it to the council for approval.

Goddard said that at this point, it’s difficult to know what all the project could entail. The RFP gives firms a range of options to consider, from additions, renovations or building new. The existing facilities may — or may not — remain, per the RFP.

Goddard said the firm would assess current school facilities, which the city described as in fair condition with dated interiors, and take the city’s needs into consideration — “including our desire to not have a very expensive project.”

The city is expecting to award a contract in February, according to the RFP. The reconfiguration could be the division’s largest construction project since building Charlottesville High School in 1974.

Interested firms will need to propose an effective public outreach strategy and lead the process to gather stakeholder input, among other requirements.

“Public interest in the process will be quite high,” city staff wrote in the RFP.


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