New school in Franklin’s future?

Published 4:34 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2021

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Replacing two of Franklin’s three public schools with one combined grades 6-12 building may be in the city’s future.

But school division officials won’t say how soon.

“At this time, there is no official information that I’m authorized to release from the division regarding a new school,” said Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling after the matter came up during a Jan. 21 School Board meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Ryder had been briefing the School Board on the progress of a bathroom renovation project at S.P. Morton Elementary when Board member Jerry McCreary asked about plans for new schools.

S.P. Morton “will probably stay around for a while,” while the division shifts its focus to replacing J.P. King Jr. Middle School and Franklin High School with a single building, Ryder answered.

The circa-1962 elementary school, which was last remodeled in 1990, had 495 students at the start of the 2020-2021 school year according to enrollment data from the Virginia Department of Education’s School Quality Profiles website — with grades 4 and 5 housed in detached trailer classrooms in pre-pandemic school years. Currently, all three schools plan to continue 100% virtual learning through the end of the third nine weeks of the school year.

J.P. King, the bulk of which dates to 1990, has a student population of 240. Franklin High, which dates to 1967, has 293.

Division-wide enrollment has fluctuated between 1,150 students to just under 1,000 since 2015, according to past budgets. As of April 29, 2020, the division had 1,016 students — a figure that fell to 968 as of Sept. 30.

“We’re only down 48 students in a pandemic; that’s not bad at all,” Sterling said. “I think those 48 and more will be easily recouped when its safe to open up schools again.”

As for how much this proposed grades 6-12 school cost Franklin’s taxpayers, the city’s current real estate rate is $1.03 per $100 of assessed value.

“A $14 million school only adds 15 cents to the tax,” Ryder said. “On a $40,000 house, it’s only $60 a year.”

But that may be a lowball estimate according to the VDOE, which lists $268.78 per square foot or $36,319 per student as the average cost to build a new middle schools this school year. For new high schools, it’s $281.87 per square foot or $47,537 per student.

Those figures are based on one middle school in Richmond and two high schools in Henrico County completed during the 2020-2021 school year, all of which were built to house upwards of 1,500 students. That said, averaging the per-student cost of a new middle school and a new high school together comes to $41,928, which, when multiplied by a capacity of 600 students to house J.P. King’s and FHS’s current populations in a single building, comes to a total of just over $25 million.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect figure for the proposed tax increase and incorrect dates listed on the city’s GIS website for when each school was built.