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Richmond school board OKs emergency procurement process for Fox elementary design

The damaged William Fox Elementary School set against a colorful evening sky.
On Feb. 11, a three-alarm fire gutted the century-old school building, located in the Fan District. An investigation into the cause of the fire that partially destroyed the historic school is still underway. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Richmond City School Board approved an emergency procurement process to award a design contract for William Fox Elementary School on Monday.

The emergency process will take about two months, according to a district presentation to board members. This contrasts with the months-long procurement process in normal circumstances; the design procurement for a new George Wythe High School was delayed for months due to an ongoing conflict between the mayor’s office, city council and the school board. 

The director of school construction for the district, Dana Fox, said Monday that the rationale for proceeding with an emergency procurement process is to protect the remaining elements of the school, which was recently named one of the state’s most endangered historic places.

On Feb. 11, a three-alarm fire gutted the century-old school building, located in the Fan District. An investigation into the cause of the fire that partially destroyed the historic school is still underway.

“So, we're not taking into account anything to do with community outrage or monetary anything; it is simply that we have a historical structure that we are trying to urgently preserve,” Fox told the school board Monday.

A motion by board member Jonathan Young failed to create a three-month-long procurement process to allow for a competitive bidding process.

“There’s a reason that we competitively bid,” Young said. “Even when you use emergency authority, it’s always best practice to solicit competition.”

In cases of emergency, section 2.2-4303, F of Virginia code allows for contracts to be “awarded without competitive sealed bidding or competitive negotiation.”

When questioned by board members about whether or not Young’s proposal would be feasible, Fox said that while she appreciated Young’s proposed compromise, she expressed hesitations about the timeline due to work district staff would need to do before putting out a request for proposals.

“The scope of the work for Fox is not going to be: ‘Please build a prototype for this square footage,’” Fox said. “We have to write that scope. I say, we — the collective construction department — we have to write that scope. We have to do our due diligence to understand exactly what the need is going to be for that building.”

Fox said that would include “bringing in other resources, structural engineers, and the like.”

In lieu of a competitive bidding process, RPS will put out a 10-day call for qualifications. The date for this was not specified, however.

“So, it would not be us picking up the phone and just calling one [design firm],” Fox said. “The qualifications would be based on their experience with historical properties, with water and fire restoration, and also whether or not they have the bandwidth to complete this work in a timely fashion.”

Fox told board members Monday that the district has already had conversations with design firms about the project, and that urgency would take precedence over other factors like cost.

Fox parent Shannon Heady said she prefers the emergency procurement option.

“It’s going to end up costing more money the more you leave [Fox elementary] open to the elements,” Heady told VPM News. “And then also knowing that Clark Springs is our surplus elementary, so if one of the other schools fails, [students from that school] can go into it. So, also, by keeping Fox students in there, you're really hurting all of RPS, because then you don't have that surplus school available when another emergency happens.”

On Monday, the school board also approved a partial roof replacement for Clark Springs Elementary School. Fox students moved into the school in May and are slated to remain there until a new Fox elementary is constructed. A presentation to the board shows areas of the roof identified by a contractor that will continue to leak, despite repeated repairs, until it’s replaced.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said that while the district’s funding for capital improvement projects for the next fiscal year has already been earmarked for other projects, he expects to receive an additional $4.5 million for this purpose from the state after its budget’s finalized. 

Kamras recommended using $600,000 of the potential state allocation “to improve the experience for students and teachers, and to protect the investment of approximately $800,000 that we have already made in [Clark Springs]. We would want to make sure that those repairs stay up to date and that we do not need to invest further dollars because of the roof.”

When asked whether the new roof would be in place before the start of the next school year, Kamras said, “I will certainly try my best, but I cannot guarantee that.”  

The district presentation said replacing the entire roof would cost about $1.5 million and would not be completed in time for a fall reopening.

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.