RADFORD — The city approved a motion to seek financing for the first portion of the long-awaited McHarg Elementary School renovation last week.
City Council held a public hearing at a meeting last week, but nobody spoke for or against the matter, so the governing body voted unanimously to approve a short-term general obligation bond to not exceed $4 million for interim financing covering the design and initial construction costs.
City Manager David Ridpath said once the project design is complete and goes out to bid, council plans on using the Virginia Public School Authority to finance the remainder of the approximately $16 million project and pay back the interim loan.
Of the 11 proposals the city received from various banks, American National Bank and Trust provided the best offer with an interest rate of 1.99%, Ridpath said. Additionally, the ability to pay the loan off early and only paying interest on the money it uses were attractive incentives, he said.
The school system has been working with the design firm Thompson and Litton on the project’s design and timeline. The renovation is the largest of a list of capital projects the school system has, totaling nearly $30 million.
Built in the 1950s, the school has a variety of issues such as limited space and aging infrastructure. According to a recent school board presentation by Jack Murphy of Thompson and Litton, a conceptual and schematic design should be ready by mid-November and the design development is set to be completed by early February.
Bids for construction will be put out in June and the timeline has phase one of the construction starting towards the end of July.
The five-phase project includes a new gym, an addition to the building and the systematic renovation of each school wing. The tentative completion date is July 2024.
Mayor David Horton said the council — which approved a 6-cent real estate tax increase this year to start a funding process — decided to only take out a portion of the total cost right now, because the project is a multi-year process and he said paying interest on money that would be essentially sitting in the bank is not the best use of taxpayer funds.
Superintendent Rob Graham said new McHarg designs as well as another public input meeting will be added to the school system’s website in the near future.
Horton said he’s happy with the progress the city has made on improving the school’s facilities, but added that there are still questions that need to be answered, such as how to afford other projects.
“I don’t think the [real estate tax] increase will take care of all of the project needs over the next few years, but honestly we need to see where our reassessments come in before we even talk about [tax] rates,” Horton said.
“I don’t want to have a really large double-digit-cent increase in a single year. We are trying to avoid that kind of shock to the system … so hopefully we can do it a little bit at a time.”