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August 29, 2016

Board member proposes closing a middle school

Photo/Cassandra Brown
“I’m not trying to be a rebel within the school board,” says Don Mason, appointed to the Lee District seat in May.
Having sat in on many redistricting meetings, there is no way in Hades that I would consider moving this many people around to this many schools. I know how difficult it is.
— School board member Duke Bland (Marshall District)
Two Aging Schools
> Taylor Middle

• Where: 350 E. Shirley Ave.

• Built: 1951, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 443

• Capacity: 547

• Building: 93,000 square feet

• Acres: 12

• Parking spaces: 58

• Renovation/expansion: Estimated $27.5 million

• Replacement: Estimated $33.6 million


> Warrenton Middle

• Where: 244 Waterloo St.

• Built: 1934, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 417

• Capacity: 545

• Building: 94,000 square feet

• Acres: 18

• Parking spaces: 103

• Renovation/expansion: Estimated $23.4 million

• Replacement: Estimated $33.6 million
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The school board’s newest member has a clear opinion about what to do with Fauquier’s two aging middle schools, Taylor and Warrenton.

Don Mason (Lee District) proposed closing one and renovating the other during the school board’s Aug. 22 work session.

“For right now, I think that we can achieve our student housing needs” with one, rather than two middle schools in Warrenton, Mr. Mason said.

That would require “maximizing the space at the others, and you have to move some kids,” he said in a follow-up interview Friday.

In a nutshell, Mr. Mason proposes the school system:

• Close one middle school.

• Renovate the other middle school in Warrenton, adding six to 10 classrooms.

• Redraw attendance zones for the four remaining schools that serve sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

The extent and cost of site work should determine which school would serve better after renovation, estimated at $23 million for Warrenton or $27.5 -million for Taylor, Mr. Mason suggested. He offered no opinion about which school should remain open.

He listed the benefits of one school in Warrenton as better program opportunities for students and reduced operating costs.

If the school system “closes one middle school, that becomes ‘surplus’,” which the county could use for offices, Mr. Mason said.

Fauquier middle school enrollment continues to decline slightly, a long-term trend. After the first three days of classes this month, the county had 92 fewer students in Grades 6, 7 and 8 than a year earlier. The five schools operate at 77.4 percent of their capacity.

“We don’t have the kids to really justify a new middle school,” Mr. Mason said. “I think this approach will keep us until we get to that time” when enrollment increases.

On the fifth day of school, Taylor had 443 students and capacity for 547.

Warrenton had 417 students and capacity for 545.

Fauquier’s school enrollment projections remain flat for the next decade.

“I still think in three to five years, we are going to need to build another middle school, because growth is coming into the service districts,” Mr. Mason said. “Spending 25 million still beats the heck out of spending 60 or 70 million to renovate both and still not have that much more building capacity.”

Mr. Mason, a Remington resident, won appointment to the Lee District school board seat in May. He faces no opponent in the November election.

A former Prince William County Public Schools construction manager, Mr. Mason has 28 years of experience renovating and building schools.

“These consultants don’t have a crystal ball,” Mr. Mason said. “They don’t know any more of what education will be like in the future . . . than I can fly an airplane.

“I’m not trying to be a rebel within the school board. The school board needs to be a united body, but I fully intend on speaking about things that are best for not just Lee District, but the citizens of the county. We need to make sure we explore all the options.”

For his proposal to work, he recommends moving teachers to the expanded, renovated school and to other middle schools with increased enrollment.

“I think what people need to understand is my idea does not include making classes bigger,” Mr. Mason said. “You can increase enrollment and not increase class sizes. You increase teachers. So you can keep your class sizes relatively where they are now.”

Fauquier middle and high schools have a teacher for every 10 students, according to administrators.

“Clearly what you say has value, and we’ll need that perspective as we go through the process,” Assistant Superintendent Janice Bourne said during last week’s school board meeting. “But, since we have charged the committee with doing this, we need to give them the opportunity . . . then decide, ‘What does this mean? Is this what we need?’ ”

The 47-member Middle School Modernization Advisory met for the first time last Thursday.

Over the next three months, committee members and citizens will have the opportunity to make suggestions on whether to focus on updating Taylor or Warrenton.

“I think this discussion is kind of premature because this is part of what the modernization committee has been tasked with,” school board member Donna Grove (Cedar Run) said. “What is the right thing to do?”

“This is a huge decision, not something the board is going to make on its own,” Ms. Grove said. “That’s why we have brought in community members who are concerned about this, people who have knowledge that we don’t necessarily have.”

Duke Bland (Marshall District) agreed.

“Having sat in on many redistricting meetings, there is no way in Hades that I would consider moving this many people around to this many schools,” Mr. Bland said of a rough plan Mr. Mason had for moving middle school students. “I know how difficult it is.”

In April, the school board signed a $137,805 contract with RRMM Architects and De-Jong Richter, an education firm, who will facilitate the process.

School administrators in November recommended focusing on Taylor Middle, originally built as the high school for black students in 1952, during segregation.

RRMM Architects completed detailed studies of both schools last August.

The estimated costs for Taylor would range from $27.5 million for renovation and expansion to $33.6 million for a new school.

It would cost an estimated $23.4 million to renovate and expand Warrenton Middle School or $33.6 million to replace it. The county’s oldest school, Warrenton dates to 1934 and stands on 18 acres along Waterloo Street.

The first public, community meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Fauquier High School. Participants will discuss ideas and concerns in small groups and take a survey.

This winter the school board will receive the committee’s recommendations for Taylor and Warrenton. The board would need funding from the county supervisors to undertake any renovation or construction.

Mr. Mason said he’ll bring his recommendation back at that point.

“Even though the statement was said that no decision has been made which way we’re going, when you read the report and when you look at the direction things are moving, that direction is saying renovate (Taylor and Warrenton),” he said. “I don’t believe that’s the thing for the county right now, because you are not addressing any future needs, you’re just fixing the problem now, which hasn’t addressed anything.”

For more information on the middle school modernization project, click here.
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Warrenton87 · August 30, 2016 at 8:03 am
Why would we not build one new, modern middle school to house the total populations of Warrenton and Taylor? Total population according to this years' enrollment would be 860... By Freshman year they'll be going to a school with a population around 1250. So unless you consider Fauquier to be grossly overcrowded and unsafe because of those numbers, I don't see a downside to consolidation into one school.
Ciampacn · August 29, 2016 at 9:36 pm
It concerns me that we would want more students in 1 new building as opposed to less students in 2 buildings. This is one of the main reasons I am thankful to live here- my children have small class sizes AND number of students in the buildings. Less students overall means that children are safer, there is a more personal relationship & a better transition into adulthood. Children in middle school need more structure and closer supervision in today's world. Who cares what the building looks like as long as it's a safe place. It is better for children to have less students per building because adults know what is happening with them.
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