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Moving Richmond Public Schools into the 21st Century — what will it cost?

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RICHMOND, Va. -- What will it take to bring Richmond school buildings into the 21st Century?

After nearly a year’s worth of work, the Richmond Public Schools Facilities Task Force believes it has a blue print to follow. While it’s a 10-year, $620 to $645 million dollar investment, task force members believe it’s a crucial plan to improving the quality of education for Richmond students.

Former educator, Arat Prior, served on the volunteer task force.

“As a teacher, your two basic things that all students need before they can even begin to learn, are security and safety,” Prior says.

According to a facilities study, more than 80 percent of Richmond school buildings are more than 20 years old. Half of the city’s schools are in desperate need of complete renovation.

Richmond School Superintendent, Dr. Dana Bedden, says one of the most immediate problems involves overcrowding at 7 of 12 elementary schools south of the James River.

“We have several elementary schools in South Richmond that are well over 100 percent capacity and are going to continue to grow,” Bedden says.

Those schools include Westover Hills, Oak Grove, Broad Rock, Greene, JL Francis, G.H.Reid and Miles Jones Elementary.

The task force looked at five options for improving the school divisions aging infrastructure.  The task force concluded the fifth option, a combination of rezoning, consolidating and renovating schools, while building others, would have the best results.

Over the next decade, the task force recommends building four new elementary schools, two new middle schools and one new high school. Over the next 24 months, the task force is recommending that school leaders seek school board approval to move Elkhardt Middle School from Clark Springs to Thompson, while beginning plans to build one new elementary and one new middle school south of the James River.

Some school board leaders believe that financing capital improvements over the next decade, is “doable.”  Task Force members say community planning and private/public partnerships are options as school leaders move forward.

“If you think education costs, ignorance costs more,” Bedden argues.  “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be paying later.”

CBS 6 spoke with Mayor Dwight Jones as he was touring a renovation project at the Richmond Public Library and asked him about the task force's recommendations.

"I don't think there is anyone who doesn't want schools to have the proper facilities, certainly I want them to have the proper facilities," said Jones. "However, it's going to have to be a discussion about how we get there. "

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