The Alexandria School Board awarded the contract for the renovation and expansion of George Washington Middle School to Hess Construction.
The company submitted the lowest bid and that was $925,000 over the $16 million that is budgeted. The Board deferred several items to bring the cost of the project into conformity with the budget. Hess is the company that built Samuel Tucker Elementary School.
"We have deferred certain items that we believe will not have a detrimental impact either to the project as a whole or to student achievement,” said V. Rodger Digilio, the chairman of the School Board Facilities Committee. “For example, we can replace the seats in the auditorium and the bleachers any time.”
One item that was considered as a potential way to save money was rejected. Replacement of the windows throughout the school has been included in the capital budget for some time but has been deferred to be part of the total makeover. The design calls for the windows to be replaced with those that more approximate the original windows. The Board voted to delete this $400,000 item but has been told by City Manager Philip Sunderland that he will recommend that City Council make $400,0000 that is currently in a contingency fund for the schools available for replacing the windows.
“We certainly appreciate the city manager’s support and hope that City Council will agree,” Digilio said.
Michele Brandon is the PTA president at GW. “The parent community would love to see all of the proposed renovations take place at GW,” Brandon said. “We also understand the budget constraints and, if particular items such as bleacher replacement and rejuvenation of the auditorium need to be deferred, they will not impact student achievement. The windows have been scheduled for replacement in previous budgets and deferred to coincide with the construction. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to replace them in a timely and cost-effective manner. GW is a building of historical architectural significance to this city. The replacement windows will restore the building to its original grandeur. I hope the School Board will simply ask for the additional funds to do this project the right way, making GW a structure of which the school community and the city can be proud.”
Budgetary issues, including GW, were discussed at a public hearing on Feb. 2.
“Everyone recognizes the budgetary constraints so they were very reasonable in their requests,” Digilio said.
The public spoke about items that were relatively minor, monetarily, but of great importance to the individual schools. The Board has agreed to pay for transportation to the Spanish immersion program at John Adams and will likely restore the $10,000 in stipends for George Washington University students who provide valuable support at Cora Kelly. Salary increases are aligned with what the city does for its own staff, generally.
“If we can’t raise every employee’s salary, I want us to at least look at increasing the salaries of our public school teachers and our public safety employees,” said Councilman Bill Euille. “It is crucial that we retain good people in these vital positions.”
Euille also did not rule out helping the school system with this year’s budget deficit, caused by a decreased state contribution from sales tax receipts and declining enrollment.
“I applaud the superintendent’s efforts to balance the school budget,” Euille said. “However, if the schools require additional financial support, it is City Council’s responsibility to look at that request very carefully.”