Brief Summary/Update (June 2022)
Good news! Charlottesville City Council and the School Board have unanimously approved moving forward with a plan to modernize and repurpose our facilities. Buford Middle School will be renovated to serve the City’s 6th- through 8th-graders. Walker Upper Elementary School will receive a light, initial renovation as the first steps toward creating a modern city-wide preschool with wrap-around services. Fifth-graders would return to their neighborhood elementary Schools. With a $68.8 million budget allocation from the City in April 2022, the project will be the city’s first major investment in school buildings since the building of Charlottesville High School in 1974.
Following the April approval, plans have been moving forward and will gear up this summer. VMDO Architects will work closely with City and School leaders to solicit staff input and complete design development by early August, followed by public review prior to developing construction documents in the fall.
Why School Reconfiguration and Why Now?
- We can create a better experience for our preschool, tween, and teen students: Our buildings should reflect modern ideas about schools as exploratory spaces. This project will also mean fewer disruptive transitions during adolescence.
- This reconfiguration project prioritizes equity: Buford and our preschool serve the highest percentage of Black, Brown and economically disadvantaged students of all our division’s schools; significant investments in these spaces are a key part of addressing historic and ongoing inequities in Charlottesville.
- We can improve outcomes through better architecture and design: Studies show that more natural light and lower noise levels in classrooms help students learn.
- Major investment in school buildings is long overdue: While the division’s annual budget is well funded, the last time the city invested significantly in school capital projects was to build CHS in 1974. Because of inflation, our ability to fund this community-driven transformation depends on timely decision-making.
- Reconfiguration addresses urgent problems of today and tomorrow, including climate change: Our schools are already nearing capacity, and this project will add space at Buford and create more flexibility for the elementaries. Additionally, upgrading these buildings is key to advancing our city’s climate goals while also addressing ADA compliance and school safety.
What’s the Timeline and Which Students are Impacted?
For a visual timeline, see the slide below. This year’s kindergarteners will be the first class to stay at their elementary schools for fifth grade. This year’s first-graders will be the first class to go to 6th grade at Buford.
- Why Charlottesville wants to spend $75 million to remake Buford Middle School (Part 1/2)
- Charlottesville seeks ‘powerful’ change with early childhood center (Part 2/2)
- Councilors ‘all in’ for city schools’ $75 million reconfiguration
- City officials wrestle with how to pay for a long-anticipated new $75 million middle school
- First phase of city schools reconfiguration to cost $75 million
Curious about the updated schedule and which cohorts of students would be impacted? Check out these two slides.
Facilities: A Brief Update (May 2021-April 2022)
Charlottesville City Schools and the City of Charlottesville have explored and agreed upon design and funding options for a redesign of Buford Middle School and Walker Upper Elementary School.
- Buford will serve grades 6-8
- Fifth-graders will return to their elementary schools
- Walker will become a city-wide preschool center
- Charlottesville City Council, School Board weigh cost, financing of reconfiguration (Daily Progress, May 27, 2021)
- Charlottesville School Board Gets First Look at What Reconfiguration Could Look Like (Daily Progress, May 22, 2021)
- Brief overview and timeline for the Walker-Buford redesign project (PDF)
Smaller Modernization Projects at the Elementary Schools
In addition, there has been a separate process for accomplishing modernization projects (with an annual budget of $1-1.25 million) at the elementary schools.
Full Updates on Buford/Walker Redesign
Stay tuned as this process unfolds. Sign up for our periodic newsletter.
School Board and City Council Discuss Reconfiguration; Parent Advocacy Group Forms (February 2022)
During a Joint Budget Work Session, the School Board and City Council discussed the planned modernization of Buford to host the city’s 6th through 8th-graders, as well as a light renovation of Walker to host an early childhood center for our preschool program. For an update, read the report from Daily Progress education reporter Katherine Knott (The article alludes to the (temporary, we hope) set-back to a state bill that would authorize Charlottesville to pursue voter approval for a sales tax increase to help support the $75 million project.) A parent group has formed to advocate for this reconfiguration project (and other ways to support education in Charlottesville). Interested? Visit https://www.charlottesvilleunited.org/
- View slides from Council/School Board joint budget session (PDF) 2/2/22
- View slides from School Board meeting (PDF) 2/3/22
- View slides from Working Group (PDF) 2/17/22
Charlottesville City Council and the School Board have unanimously approved moving forward with the design process for a $75 reconfiguration plan that would renovate Buford Middle School to serve the City’s 6th- through 8th-graders and would also complete an light, initial renovation of Walker Upper Elementary School as the first steps toward creating a modern city-wide preschool with wrap-around services. Fifth-graders would return to their neighborhood elementary Schools. The project would be the city’s first major investment in school buildings since the building of Charlottesville High School in 1974. See links and reporting at top of page.
The Charlottesville City School Board and City Council met to review the recommendation from the Community Design Team (based on the 9/14 meeting). There was general support for the phased project, with questions about how to fund it. Estimates for phase 1 (covering the renovation/expansion of Buford Middle School to house grades 6-8, initial renovations of Walker for preK students, and furniture for fifth-grade students returning to elementary schools) came in at $75 million.
- Slides (PDF) from the 9/15/21 Joint Work Session
- Read more: First phase of city schools reconfiguration to cost $75 million (Daily Progress, 9/17/21)
- Next meeting: School Board work session, Sept. 23, 5pm. Register here.
Seventh & Final Community Design Team Meeting picks Option 2 for Walker, Option 3 for Buford (9/14/21)
The CDT identified option 2 at Walker and option 3 at Buford as the preferred schemes to move forward for recommendation to the School Board and City Council. The following criteria were the most important when identifying what should be the selected scheme:
- Thorough renovation of any buildings to remain
- Square footage/student
- Daylight & fresh air to classrooms
- Easy access to outdoor space
- Appropriately sized and defined learning communities
Want to see the options or learn more?
- Review the slides (PDF) from this final Community Design Team meeting.
- Watch the (long) meeting on Facebook.
- See also: slides (PDF) from the 9/15/21 Joint Work Session
- Next meeting: School Board work session, Sept. 23, 5pm. Register here.
At this meeting, Zoom participants explored new design schemes (for which cost estimates ae being prepared now). The group reviewed the pros/cons of the new schemes with the hope of building consensus toward a recommendation to City Council. Flip through the slides (video to come) to review the slides. Have an opinion? Take the survey! (survey now closed)
- See slides to review possible building schemes
- Have an opinion? Take the survey! (survey now closed)
Between Zoom and the in-person meeting, nearly 60 attended this meeting, hearing a brief update from the Working Group (comprised of City/School staff and elected officials). The Working Group’s sense is that we are trying to spread the available funding too thin by developing both projects at once. Their guidance is to focus the first round of available funding (possibly $60 million) to accomplish the move of 6th grade to the renovated Buford campus and then create a longer term plan to renovate Walker for preK. The meeting also featured presentations about the latest research about middle schools, the value of outdoor play, and Buford students’ perspectives on the Buford garden learning spaces.
- Watch first part of meeting on Facebook
- See slides
- Read reporting in Daily Progress (“Team meets at Buford to ponder reconfiguration options,” August 3, 2021)
- See photos of meeting in Daily Progress (“PHOTOS: In-Person Reconfiguration Meeting,” August 3 2021)
Again, about 50 people were on hand to brace for higher-than-hoped for construction estimates. Pandemic inflation has complicated an already-tight budget. Watch the meeting to explore options.
About 50 people cam to the most recent meeting and shared their voice about the “big rocks” they want to prioritize for either preschool or Walker.
More than 50 people joined in to hear the latest as VMDO showed a number of possible building and construction plans to prepare for getting rough cost estimates.
- Find recorded meeting on Facebook
- Watch the slide show
- See the slides about possible site fits at Buford and Walker
Nearly 70 people came together to start the process of dreaming and planning! Next meeting: June 15, 6pm!
- Find recorded meeting on Facebook
- Review the slides here!
- Read coverage here (Daily Progress, June 4, 2021)
Charlottesville City School Board/City Council Joint Work Session on Reconfiguration (May 26, 2021)
The Charlottesville City Council and School Board met for a joint work session to discuss school reconfiguration.
In April 2021, the City selected local educational architecture firm VMDO to gather community feedback and present design options for Buford Middle School (which would serve grades 6-8) and Walker School (which would become a preschool center). See “VMDO Architects selected to design city schools reconfiguration project” (Daily Progress, 4/4/21). The Request for Proposals for design options were initially posted in December 2019 and submissions were received by the end of January, but the pandemic raised other priorities.
In November 2020, the City Council met for an update on the project. For an update, read “City Council considers funding for school reconfiguration project” (Daily Progress, 11/20/20).
As part of the budget planning process for the 2019-20 year, the Charlottesville School Board held discussions with Charlottesville City Council about school facilities, enrollment growth, and their implications for equity.
The School Board endorsed a school reconfiguration plan that would create a preschool center, return 5th-graders to elementary schools, and modernize Buford Middle School for grades 6-8. The Charlottesville City Council approved a $3 million allocation for design and planning work on school reconfiguration. (The funds would be outside the schools’ operating budget, as part of the CIP or Capital Improvement Project process.)
The over-arching ideas are:
- Move the schools’ 3- and 4-year-old preschool classes to a dedicated preschool center on the current Walker Upper Elementary School campus. This specialized center would allow for additional classrooms, before/after school care, and services that are targeted to meet the needs of our youngest learners.
- Return fifth-graders to elementary schools, the environment that is most developmentally appropriate for their needs. This will required continued monitoring of the enrollment capacity of our elementary schools.
- Remodel Buford Middle School to maximize opportunities for grades 6-8. This will eliminate one of the two middle-grade transitions that we current require as our students presently first move from elementary to Walker in grade 5 and again move from Walker to Buford in grade 7.
- In addition to this process, the schools have received a five-year commitment of $1 million from City Council to support modernization projects. The first, completed in the summer of 2018, was at Clark Elementary. The second will be completed at Jackson-Via Elementary in the summer of 2019.
To learn more about the process that led to these decisions, scroll down for previous updates. As noted previously, the timeline for planning and modernizing schools would be at least three years.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: April 25, 2018
This winter, Charlottesville City Schools held a series of discussions relating to our rising student enrollment. We presented a number of options and offered a preliminary survey to solicit additional input. We also briefed community leaders such as City Council and the Planning Commission.
What We Heard
- We heard strong support for returning to centralized preschool with services that focus on the needs of our eligible three- and four-year-old students (and their families). Aside from allowing us to specialize in early childhood education, a centralized preschool would free up space in our crowded elementary schools.
- We heard a preference for maintaining our commitment to small neighborhood elementary schools (over a model of enlarging three of our elementary schools). This would likely require the construction of a seventh elementary school on currently owned or future-acquired property.
- We did NOT hear a consensus about relocating fifth-graders to the elementary schools. However, returning fifth-grade to elementary schools had previously arisen as a strong preference in prior community surveys and meetings. This would require a preschool center and the remodeling of Buford for 6th- through 8th-graders. Elementary capacity would still need to be addressed.
- We heard an interest in additional options. These options include a 5-8 campus that provides updated facilities and eliminates a school transition during the critical “middle grade” years. Another option is creating a specialty academy to serve students in the elementary or middle-grade years.
- We heard interest in combining our capacity needs and our modernization needs. If we can identify solutions that both expand capacity and modernize our facilities, there is support for a greater investment that would provide our community with a bigger return.
- We heard support for our out-of-division student program even as we heard reminders that we should minimize the impact of the program on overcrowding. In other words, we will continue to strive to admit only those students who will fill otherwise unused seats in existing classrooms. Relatedly, we heard support for continuing to offer spaces to the children of employees of the City Schools and the City. And we heard from community members who want to make sure that once we have built a relationship with a nonresident student, we should view that child as a “Charlottesville student,” or “one of our own,” not as an outsider who should be sent away.
- New data points in August. Updated enrollment figures will help us make informed decisions. This data will help us critically re-evaluate and tweak our interpretation of enrollment trends as projected by our partner, U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center.
- Learning cottages. The “elementary wave” we’ve been seeing continues to max out our elementary schools and is beginning to make an impact at Walker and Buford. We have purchased one additional unit for next year with the option to buy others if needed. We have also completed the most time-consuming part of the planning process: site studies at campuses to identify the best placements.
- Fleshing out options and responding to opportunities. In response to community feedback (see above), we can continue to explore our options and opportunities. In doing this work, we continue to work with VMDO Architects and the City’s Facilities team.
- Fall community meetings. We will meet with City Council, community partners, and the community-at-large to be transparent and responsive to the hopes and concerns of all.
Previous Updates to this page (January 2018)
Charlottesville City Schools is growing! Since our enrollment has been increasing about 3 percent annually, we need to consider the future of our school facilities. Together, let’s consider how we can best meet our students’ needs, particularly for our classes serving preschool through grade 8. Our school division’s growth also presents an opportunity to modernize our schools for 21st-century learning.
(POSTPONED) Community Conversation: January 31, 2018 – 6 p.m., Charlottesville High School media center
School Board discussion/public comment – February 1, 2018, 5:00 p.m., CHS
- School Board meetings are live streamed at ustream.com (search for Charlottesville City Schools). Watch regularly scheduled meetings on the first Thursday of every month at 5 p.m.
- Meetings are also recorded and later televised on Public Access Channel 14 on Thursday & Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday at 12 and 7 p.m. of the same week as the meeting.
Charlottesville City Schools contracted VMDO Architects to study capacity and growth in the division. VMDO’s findings, along with the UVA Weldon Cooper Center’s study on enrollment trends in Charlottesville, were presented at two community meetings in November.
Click here to jump to a topic:
FAQs on Growth and Capacity Solutions for Charlottesville City Schools
Frequently Asked Questions coming soon. Please help us compile this list by providing your own questions/feedback using the Community Survey.
The next Community Meetings will be January 23 at 6 p.m. at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church and January 31 at 6 p.m. at CHS Media Center followed by a series of school PTO meetings and other community outreach meetings where we will provide information and gather feedback from community members. Additionally, there will be discussion and an opportunity for public comment at the regularly scheduled School Board meeting on February 2 at 5:30pm in the Charlottesville High School library.
Stay in Touch
Stay informed and share your thoughts! We will continue to post future
updates on this web page. Look for a more robust community survey coming in January.
1) Consensus about moving forward with expansion plans?
2) One new elementary, or three expanded elementaries? Centralized preschool?
3) Other questions as they emerge from community feedback.
- Charlottesville Tomorrow, “Charlottesville seeking solutions to school capacity challenges” (June 30, 2017)
- Charlottesville City Schools Capacity Study Volume 1: Assessment, June 14, 2017
- Charlottesville Family’s Bloom Magazine, “Growing enrollment presents opportunities for the future.” (July 25, 2017)
- Dr. Atkins, Update to Families (October 19, 2017)
- WINA, School Board Work Session Summary (focuses on grades K-5) (October 20, 2017)
- American School & University Magazine, “Prepare for Growth” (October 2017; sign-up required to see article). Article projects 5 percent growth in PK-12 enrollment in the South over the years 2017-2025.
- Charlottesville Tomorrow, “Charlottesville City Schools shares growth options with public” (November 13, 2017)
- NBC 29, “Charlottesville City Schools request community’s input to address overcapacity” (November 28, 2017)
- CBS 19, “Charlottesville City Schools look to tackle capacity issues” (November 28, 2017)
A very brief survey (now closed) is available to capture some initial thoughts. Please look for a more detailed survey coming in January.