The Greensville County School Board met virtually to discuss the proposed Equality Equation project – a public-private partnership that if agreed upon, would pave the way for the construction of an education, health and wellness campus on a site on Rt. 301 in Greensville County. The Board voted unanimously to send the proposal to the School Board’s attorney for consultation.
Board Chairman Marva Dunn stated the Board was not meeting to make a final decision on the project, but rather to discuss whether more information was needed from the group submitting the proposal, or whether the Board would send the information they have to the Board attorney for legal review.
The proposal from Equality Equation, originally presented to the Board on April 12, would see the design and construction of a new Greensville County High School and a new elementary school. The campus would also be home to a new multi-use athletic complex and career and training education (CTE) facilities.
In the proposal, Greensville County Public Schools would enter into a long-term rent agreement with the Equality Equation for the use of the new high school and elementary school, as well as a leasing agreement for the use of the athletic facilities. GCPS would also enter a long-term services agreement to provide CTE programs for students at the campus. The idea of paying rent to a private group for the use of two schools raised concern with a number of Board members.
Another concern voiced during the meeting was over the location of the proposed site.
“The City and the County come up with an equation to fund our school system,” said Board member Drexel Pierce, Nottoway District. “The proposed location of this [campus] on Otterdam Road and 301 would actually move our high school out of City limits. If you do a little research, potentially, there could be a split. I’m not saying that that would happen – this is a great project. But please keep that in mind.”
The land currently owned by the Equality Equation for the proposed campus is not located within the City of Emporia, and the agreement as it stands does not involve financial partnership with the City of Emporia in any capacity.
“[The current] County high school is in City limits,” Pierce said during the Apr. 12 meeting. “If we build all of our schools on County property, then the County can actually tell the City to build their own schools.”
In 2002, the General Assembly passed the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act in an effort to meet the growing need for school construction in Virginia. The act allows private developers limited access to tax-free bonds to pay for public buildings such as schools.
In an interview with educational training website Education World, Virginia Department of Education architectural consultant Hunter Barnes said that while the legislation was meant to encourage private groups to provide land and labor while leasing the school building back to local districts, most school districts were not following that formula.
“In 95% of cases, the school district still owns the building, bids out the work, and the counties provide the money,” Barnes said. “It’s not totally a turnkey operation. The guidelines give a generic model for school systems. There are a lot of legal issues.”
In the case before the Greensville County School Board, those issues are what have delayed a decision on the proposal. As mentioned in Tuesday’s meeting, if the Board decided to accept an outside proposal to build a new facility, they would first need to hear bids and proposals from any other outside groups that wished to submit them.
The Equality Equation was founded by Elizabeth and Pless Jones, Jr. Pless was born and raised in Emporia, and is the second-generation owner of P&J Contracting Company, Inc. Pless and the Equality Equation have proposed similar projects in the Baltimore area.