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Contractor behind Buford overhaul promises to 'hit the ground running'

The last day of classes at Charlottesville’s lone middle school is Friday, June 9. A contractor plans to start mobilizing for the multiyear overhaul of Buford Middle School the following Monday: June 12.

“We want to hit the ground running,” Jim DeLucas of Nielsen Builders Inc. told The Daily Progress.

The chief development officer of the Harrisonburg-based firm, DeLucas said that he expects that passersby will soon see fencing and construction trailers at the Cherry Avenue facility.

After a competitive bidding process, Nielsen was tapped in late March as the general contractor for the $84.3 million construction project, a $91.8 million effort including design and other costs.

Now, thanks to a $17.6 million grant announced this month from the Virginia Department of Education, several components that might have been delayed appear to be on their way to reality: an overhauled performing arts center, a redeveloped school garden and a terraced outdoor classroom.

“The grant removed any outstanding questions about how to pay for the entirety of the project,” Charlottesville City Schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk told The Daily Progress.

The renovation promises not only to overhaul Buford, which opened in 1966, but will bring Charlottesville’s school pattern in line with those in other Virginia localities. Buford will expand from merely serving 7th and 8th graders by adding the 6th grade.

The change will let fifth-graders remain for one more year in the city’s six neighborhood elementary schools. It will also mean a role change for what has been known as Walker Upper Elementary. Founded as a junior high, Walker will become a centralized pre-kindergarden school.

Since 1988, when the city’s school board grew concerned that its two middle schools had become racially segregated, Charlottesville has both extended and divided each student’s middle school years with a practice it initially called “pairing” by sending them to Walker for two years and then to Buford for two years.

The Buford overhaul, overseen by Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects, is an expansion that promises improvements to natural light, accessibility, ventilation, and — in an era of increased shootings at American schools — security.

“A variety of internal safety features will accomplish the goal of connecting all learning spaces into one building so that students and staff do not need to walk outside between class changes,” reads one line from the city’s information sheet on the project.

The project will demolish the existing gymnasium as well as a small classroom structure called Building D. New structures will rise that will include both natural light and operable windows to take advantage of fresh air when weather permits.

The construction is slated to be complete just in time for the fall semester in 2026, but Buford students will continue learning in the existing facility while construction is underway.

“They’ll build new spaces while the students are in the old spaces, and they’ll renovate old spaces while the students are in the new spaces,” said Cheuk.

Buford shares a 19-acre, city-owned tract with the city’s Smith Aquatic Center and the largest chapter of the six Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia.


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