BRISTOL, Va. — Two major school system initiatives are paused pending a Nov. 23 meeting with the Bristol Virginia City Council.
That night, the School Board plans to make its case anew to proceed with a proposed new $24 million elementary school. Also on hold is an energy performance contract ranging from $4 million to $9 million but expected to be repaid through utility cost savings.
Superintendent Keith Perrigan outlined both to the School Board during Monday night’s meeting.
“We aren’t able to do anything [on those issues] until we know what direction City Council wants to go in building a new school,” Perrigan said after the meeting. “We can’t move forward with the energy performance contract until we know what we’re doing with the new elementary school.”
The board approved proceeding with the energy savings project at its July meeting. A request for proposals netted two respondents, and a committee selected Energy Systems Group, which performed similar work at Virginia High School in 2012.
“This is a statewide initiative encouraging school divisions and localities to conserve energy and realize how much money you can save and be environmentally friendly,” Perrigan told the board. “And even though we would borrow money to do this, it does not count against the locality’s debt capacity.”
The program is designed to allow an entity to save enough money in energy costs to cover the annual loan cost, Perrigan said, adding that if the savings aren’t what is promised, the contractor would pay the difference.
It would include new heating and cooling systems and control systems, but specific project details are confidential at this stage, according to a School Board document.
Because significant work has already occurred at Stonewall Jackson Elementary, the savings would be minimal, Perrigan said, making the most expensive $8.9 million scenario an unlikely choice.
The work would be planned for Virginia High, Virginia Middle and Van Pelt Elementary but not the two elementary schools targeted for closing if a new school is built — Highland View and Washington-Lee.
Perrigan said savings generated from the 2012 improvements allowed that loan to be paid off years ahead of schedule. As presented, the other two plans would cost $5.6 million or $4.1 million but generate estimated annual savings of $116,400 and $113,800, respectively — both less than the estimated annual loan cost.
However, the system is also considering allocating up to $2 million of federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding toward the work.
The City Council isn’t required to approve the contract, but Perrigan said he intends to brief them on the project before the board acts.
The board also heard an update on its proposed new elementary school project. The latest estimate is the school system would need about $500,000 annually from the city or some other funding source to open the new building adjacent to Van Pelt while keeping Stonewall Jackson Elementary open — which also needs about $500,000 in additional improvements.
The city could opt to use some of its unspent COVID relief funds, seek federal support through the federal infrastructure bill or possibly state funding, according to the presentation.
If, however, the City Council and School Board agreed to close three schools, including Stonewall Jackson, that would generate an additional $900,000 in savings by cutting 19 positions versus six positions and generating greater operational savings.
The school project requires city approval and — in order to qualify to use $2 million in federal ESSER funds as a down payment — construction work would need to begin in early 2022.