IWCS seeking state school construction grant

Published 7:27 pm Saturday, December 16, 2023

Isle of Wight County Schools has applied for a state grant that could fund up to a fifth of the cost of replacing Westside Elementary and other construction projects.

Virginia’s 2022 Appropriations Act allocated $450 million to the state Board of Education to award School Construction Assistance Program, or SCAP, grants on a competitive basis to school boards that “demonstrate poor building conditions,” according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website.

IWCS applied for but was not selected for the first round of SCAP grants, which saw over $365 million of the allotted funds distributed to divisions across the state. IWCS submitted a new application ahead of the state’s Nov. 28 deadline for a second round of SCAP grants to use up the remaining $84.6 million.

IWCS previously received $2.3 million in 2022 from another state construction grant separate from the first round of SCAP funding, of which roughly $180,000 remained as of last month.

School divisions that did not receive a SCAP grant during the 2022-23 school year are eligible to receive funding for 10-30% of projects estimated at $100 million or less.

According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, Isle of Wight is eligible for 20% based on its “composite index,” a formula the state uses when allocating money to public school divisions. The formula, according to the VDOE, is intended to measure a locality’s “ability to pay” based on its enrollment, adjusted gross income and tax revenue.

According to division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, IWCS submitted a single application listing three projects. In addition to Westside, IWCS has requested funding for replacing Carrollton Elementary’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and renovations to Smithfield High School’s band and chorus rooms.

Briggs said the VDOE has encouraged schools to submit multiple funding requests per application, but allows only one application per division.

They will consider each individual school construction project separately, based on their criteria,” Briggs said.

Were VDOE to approve the request for Westside, the grant would offset $14.2 million of the project’s estimated $71 million cost, according to Keaton. The School Board, in February, listed replacing the 1960s-era school as its No. 2 priority behind already in-progress school security upgrades in its capital improvements plan. The work is tentatively slated to start during the 2025-26 school year.

The $71 million estimate listed in a November report by county staff amounts to a 7.5% increase over a $66 million estimate provided to the School Board in early 2022.

Replacing Carrollton’s HVAC system, initially estimated in September at $3.7 million, has since ballooned to $7.5 million. Under the 20% formula, Isle of Wight would be able to offset $1.5 million with grant funds were the project approved for state funding.

Renovating Smithfield High’s band and chorus rooms, as of a 2022 public hearing on the capital improvements plan, had been slated for the 2026-27 school year at $1.3 million. The current cost, according to Keaton, is estimated at $4.6 million, of which $930,218 would be funded with grant money if Isle of Wight’s application for the state money is approved.

According to the VDOE, awarded grant funds will be paid “in quarterly installments as project costs are incurred.” While there is no local match required of the county, a provision of the grant requires that Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors commit to “maintain or increase the percentage of local revenues dedicated to public education throughout the duration of the financing proposed for the project.” The supervisors voted unanimously on Nov. 16 to pass a resolution pledging the county’s adherence to the requirement.

Isle of Wight County contributed $29.6 million to its school system at the start of the current school year, accounting for just under 31% of the county’s $95.5 million budget for its 2023-24 fiscal year.