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Friday, April 28, 2023

It's finally happening. After decades of discussion and planning, the city will begin rebuilding Buford Middle School in June. It's now a more than $90 million project that will take about three years to complete.

A basic bathroom with dingy yellow and beige tile and painted concrete walls, two stalls, a single sink. The tile on the floor has chunks missing and has dark stains along the edges.

The long awaited, $90 million Buford Middle School renovation will begin in June

Plans for the new middle school are fairly grand. When finished, all the buildings will be either new structures or entirely re-built. There will be high-tech classrooms, collaborative spaces, a spot for a garden and a new performing arts center.

To really understand the significance of this moment, we need to start from the very beginning.

A black and white newspaper clipping has a headline that reads, "Two Schools Seem Identical, But Are They?"
Credit: UVA Special Collections Library

VMDO has the contract to design a reconfigured Buford and Walker. But why are the schools like that in the first place?

Buford Middle School and Walker Upper Elementary School both opened in 1966 as two middle schools. During this period in Charlottesville's history, the city was at the tail end of overt massive resistance to integration, and the city's neighborhoods remained starkly segregated. As a result, Buford received more Black students and Walker Middle School more white. Buford also served areas of the city where people with lower incomes lived. So it wasn't long before Buford was perceived as inferior to Walker — and it received less investment as a result.

City Schools noticed the disparity and attempted to rectify it in 1988 by reconfiguring the two schools, turning Walker into an upper elementary school. The idea was to force all Charlottesville students to attend both schools, removing any stigma.

It didn't work.

Instead of all students tracking together through middle school, many affluent families pulled their children out of the public school system during these years. You can still see this happening today. Around 53% of City School children are deemed “economically disadvantaged” by the district. At Buford Middle School, that number jumps to 60%.

Shrubs in front of a brick building that has a sign that reads "Walker School."
Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Dexter Auction

How soon will City Schools reconfigure Walker, Buford?

By the early 2000s, both buildings were getting old and needed a lot of work. But, the Great Recession of 2008 meant that the city couldn't afford such a large project. Year after year, it was put on the back burner as the buildings decayed.

Today, Buford's buildings are outdated and dilapidated. The roof leaks, there's mold, the foundation is cracked, classrooms have few power outlets, the auditorium can't hold all the school's students. This list of issues goes on. (Read more about the state of Buford in this story.)

A bank of doors under an overhang at the front of a building, under a large sign that reads "Buford Middle School."
Credit: Credit: Mike Kropf/Dexter Auction

City Council supports the much-needed Buford Middle School rebuild, but must raise taxes or delay other projects to do it

By 2019, City Schools was serious about rebuilding Buford. But, it was a bit of an adventure agreeing on the scope of the project and finding the money to do it.

The initial proposal was $60 million. City officials hoped to fund that by implementing a local sales tax, but in 2022, state lawmakers said they couldn't. So, the city scrambled to find a different way to pay for it. The money will now come from its Capital Improvement Program, which is basically real estate and personal property taxes. Council also applied for a state grant for a portion of the cost. All the while, construction costs continued to climb, which brought the overall price up to the $91.8 million it is now.

Credit: Mike Kropf / Dexter Auction

The delayed Robert E. Lee statue trial might be losing a plaintiff

In other news, the trial over Charlottesville's statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee might be losing a plaintiff. It's a fairly dense legal argument, but basically, the Ratcliffe Foundation was not a legally incorporated entity at the time it filed suit. It was an oversight, its lawyer said. He had forgotten to re-file paperwork and so the entity was dissolved by the state.

The judge has not yet ruled on whether Ratcliffe can continue in the case.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Dexter Auction's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at [email protected]! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a [email protected].