BRISTOL, Va. — Four days after City Council requested a plan to improve city school buildings, Superintendent Keith Perrigan presented a draft version to the School Board.
The council and board met last Thursday to discuss short- and long-term needs at the city’s six school buildings regarding accessibility, safety and general condition. They agreed to reconvene July 1, and the council asked for recommendations on how best to bring buildings into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as how to meet other pressing needs.
A recent Virginia Department of Education study showed those improvements could cost between $33 million and $64 million, far beyond the fiscal capability of a city with little spare income and no ability to borrow long-term bonds.
However, the council recently appropriated $100,000 for safety and ADA compliance improvements at three city elementary schools and agreed to fund another $100,000 after the next fiscal year begins July 1. In addition, the school division will receive a $65,000 Community Development Block Grant to replace a malfunctioning elevator at Stonewall Jackson Elementary.
School officials plan to fund similar improvements at the fourth elementary school through monies in the operating budget.
Completing those improvements — constructing security vestibules at school entrances and making one male and female handicapped-accessible restroom — are among the goals for the plan’s first year. The other is to identify “major limitations” to accessibility at all six buildings.
Priorities for 2020-21 include ensuring that every school includes at least one handicapped-accessible parking area, entrance and restroom for both male and female students. In addition, the draft plan includes beginning construction or renovations to ensure all elementary students, staff and visitors have access to fully ADA-compliant buildings.
For years three and four, the plan includes completing either construction or renovations to all elementary schools and ensuring all areas of every level of every school have access to ADA-compliant male and female restrooms.
The long-term plan, for years five and beyond, includes addressing all items from a prioritized list of all remaining ADA noncompliance issues at all buildings.
“I think it’s a very good start,” board Chairman Randy Alvis said. “The key is funding. That’s what we have to work out between us and council — how much money they can designate to us to get these goals accomplished.”
All phases should be aligned with a capital improvement plan, Perrigan said.
“Most of the ADA problems we have are not a surprise to us. I think we’ve learned a lot recently about the laws that go with them,” Perrigan said after the meeting. “We’re required to have a transition plan in effect, so we immediately got to work after Thursday night’s meeting developing a draft of that transition plan. Obviously we’ll have to make that more specific and fill in some blanks, but that’s a good start.”
They also intend to establish a committee to review all ADA noncompliance issues and further develop the plan.
“The July 1 meeting will have a lot of impact,” Perrigan said. “It’s important to tell City Council we’ve got a rough draft, but I don’t know how much more specific we can get until we know how much funding we have to work with.”