September 18, 2008

Private Deal Considered for School


By Cheryl Ross

The Virginian-Pilot


City and school leaders are considering working with a private developer to help build a new Simonsdale Elementary School.

Waiting until the year 2013 when the city might begin funding the project could run up the cost of the building to about $28 million, about $10 million more than it would cost if construction began in fall 2009 as originally planned, officials say.

So they're considering using a public-private partnership to help the school building rise from the city's landscape sooner rather than later. No other school division in South Hampton Roads has built a school using such an arrangement.

On Oct. 2, city and school leaders plan to hold an informational meeting for potential private partners. The location hasn't been set. At tonight's School Board meeting, members are expected to vote on procedures for entering a public-private partnership.

"That school has got to get built," City Councilman Doug Smith said this week.

School officials had planned to open the new school in 2011. However, a tight budget year, city leaders say, forced the Simonsdale project off Portsmouth's plate.

The delay in funding could put off Simonsdale's opening to 2016, said Assistant Superintendent Dan Pendarvis, who oversees budget and planning for the school division. The current estimated cost of the project is about $18 million, he said.

Simonsdale was built in 1946, Pendarvis said. There are about 230 students enrolled in the approximately 33,300-square-foot school. The school has window air conditioning, an outdated electrical system, limited playground space, no gym and very little natural light, Pendarvis said.

The new school would be about 80,000 square feet. Current plans call for the new building to serve students from the old Simonsdale and Olive Branch Elementary School, and to convert Olive Branch into a preschool center.

City and school leaders say there are any number of scenarios in which a public-private partnership could work.

A private developer could build the school and lease it to the school division for 20 years at an annual rental rate of about $1.4 million, Pendarvis said. After the lease period, the division would own the building, he said.

The lease could be paid through city real estate taxes, he said. A private developer or developers - it could be the same company that built the school - could also buy property in the city, and the city could choose to dedicate taxes generated from those houses on the land as payment for the school division's building lease.

Pendarvis said that six properties in the city have already been identified as potential sites that private partners may be interested in for real estate development.

Cheryl Ross, (757) 446-2443, [email protected]

possible sites

Sites for the school are where the old Hunt-Mapp Middle School, Cradock High School and Port Norfolk Elementary School are located or once stood ; Olive Branch Elementary; about 6 acres of vacant land at the Stephen H. Clarke school complex; and the site for the division's Instructional Resource Center and the DAC Center.

Originally published by BY CHERYL ROSS.

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