A new George Wythe High School will cost a record $86,111 per student, data show

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/2/2023, 6 p.m.
The cost of replacing George Wythe High School has ballooned to $154.6 million, far more than anticipated.
George Wythe High School Photo by Regina H. Boone

The cost of replacing George Wythe High School has ballooned to $154.6 million, far more than anticipated.

Chesapeake-based RRMM Architects, which is handling the design work, recently provided that estimate to the School Board and Mayor Levar M. Stoney in updating the development of the building that is projected to have room for 1,800 students and bear a new name.

The cost of the new school, data from the Virginia Department of Education show, is on track to be a record for the state in per cost per square foot or cost per student.

Based on RRMM data, the new high school would cost $86,111 per each of the students and $543 per square foot.

The School Board had hoped to keep the total cost around $116 million for the new building in retaking control of building construction two years ago, a move that created a significant conflict with Mayor Stoney’s administration and City Council.

At the time, the mayor’s team led by Robert Steidel, deputy chief administrative officer for operations, estimated the cost of the new school building would run $140 million, a figure that was received with skepticism from School Board members at the time but which now appears to have been on target.

The city has made sure the funding will be available. The 2023-24 capital budget that the City Council is to receive in March is to include authorization for Richmond Public Schools to borrow $200 million for construction of new schools, part of the $800 million that the city has pledged to provide for new school buildings through 2040.

The past two capital budgets that the council has approved shows the $200 million as being made available during the upcoming fiscal year that will start July 1.

Fourth District School Board member Jonathan Young, a leader in pushing for School Board control of construction, acknowledged that the RRMM price tag for the new high school came as a surprise.

The cost is about 50 percent more than Henrico County paid to build the new Tucker and Varina high schools, which opened in the fall of 2021. Those schools cost nearly $100 million each.

And if the numbers prove correct, the total would be double the cost of the current Huguenot High School, which opened in 2016. The city spent about $75 million to develop that building.

Mr. Young said the cost of the new high school would reduce the money available for other needed building projects, such as redeveloping a former tobacco factory in South Side into a career and vocational high school.

According to RRMM, the design of the new high school is nearly complete. Expectations are for RPS to submit permit requests to the city by May 15 and to post requests for a contractor to build by Aug. 1.

The goal, according to RRMM and RPS, is to award the contract and give the selected team notice to proceed by Nov. 1.

The RRMM timeline surprisingly indicates that it could take three years to prepare the new site and build the new high school, with completion anticipated by Nov. 1, 2026. Demolition of the existing building and construction of new athletic fields on that site are anticipated to take an additional year, according RRMM.