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March 8, 2019

Cedar Lee Middle School expansion becomes priority

Photo/Google Earth
Cedar Lee Middle School would undergo expansion under the new plan. The 105,000-square-foot Bealeton school stands on 32 acres and has 636 students this year.
I want taxpayers to know that this thing was looked at seriously and it was looked at extensively. And that the number is what it is.
— Supervisor Chris Butler
Public Hearing
• Topic: County budget, including schools and capital projects, and tax rates for fiscal 2020.

• When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.

• Where: Fauquier High School auditorium.

• Agency: County board of supervisors.

• Details: County administrator proposes a $331.1-million budget, including a $3.5-million local funding increase for schools.

• More information: Click here
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Staff Journalist
After a 10-minute discussion Thursday, Fauquier’s board of supervisors agreed to amend the county capital improvements plan to include $10 million in the next two years for expansion of Cedar Lee Middle School at Bealeton.

Part of a potential $40-million plan that also would address Warrenton’s two aging middle schools, the Cedar Lee improvements would accommodate about 200 more students there. School officials have discussed adding a dozen classrooms and an auxiliary gym.

The school board on Feb. 27 endorsed the same concept, representing a compromise with the supervisors, who control funding. For the last 2-1/2 years, the school board had advocated construction of a consolidated middle school in Warrenton. 

The new plan would allocate $1 million in fiscal 2020 and $9 million in fiscal 2021 to the Cedar Lee project.

The supervisors Thursday also backed a phased concept that calls for:

• A potential $30-million renovation and expansion of a middle school — Taylor or Warrenton — in the county seat to accommodate up to 650 students.

Cedar Lee’s expansion would occur first, keeping Southern Fauquier students closer to their homes and paving the way for the middle school project in Warrenton in 2022 and 2023.

• Redrawing attendance districts, which also would send more students to Auburn Middle School near New Baltimore. 

• The school board will decide which building in Warrenton would get renovated and expanded. The other school would undergo renovation to house Head Start, the senior citizens’ center and offices from the community center. Southeastern Alternative School and administrative offices also might move to that structure.

• The sale of the five-acre Warrenton Community Center property (formerly Central Elementary) and five adjoining acres to help fund the project. For tax purposes, the county values community center property and the buildings — next to Walmart — at $6.9 million.

The plan would reduce the number of students attending middle school — Grades 6, 7 and 8 — in the Town of Warrenton and short bus rides for many of them.

This year, Taylor Middle has 463 students and Warrenton has 412. Countywide, the five middle schools have 2,553 students.

The plan would resolve a long-running debate about how to address Warrenton’s two aging middle schools.

“If both boards are in agreement with this conceptual plan, then we would bring it back to the boards in the form of a resolution,” County Administrator Paul McCulla told the supervisors.

That would permit county and school system staffs to prepare a “specific plan,” Mr. McCulla added.

In answer to supervisors’ questions, the county administrator explained the board would be informed throughout the process about studies to determine costs to renovate and/or expand the three schools.

“Lot of hurdles,” Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) said.

“It’s a lot of hurdles, but it’s another step forward,” Mr. McCulla said.

“Well, I think that’s progress,” Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) said.

Supervisors’ Chairman Chris Butler (Lee), whose district includes Cedar Lee Middle, wants firm, reliable price tags for the project.

“I want taxpayers to know that this thing was looked at seriously, and it was looked at extensively,” Mr. Butler said. “And that the number is what it is.”

Fauquier’s proposed 2020-24 capital improvements plan totals $64.5 million, with an additional $195.5 million designated for “future” years. Adopted each year as part of the county budget, the CIP includes construction projects and major equipment purchases.

Mr. McCulla’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget totals $331.1 million. It calls for 1.2-percent real estate tax rate increase that would generate about $1.15 million — all of which would fund nine new emergency services jobs and the reclassification of three existing positions in the department.

The real estate tax rate stands at 98.2 cents. With the proposed rate increase, the annual tax bill for an average single-family home valued at $378,000 would rise to $3,771, according to Mr. McCulla. 

The proposed 1.2-percent hike equates to an increase of $45 for such homeowners.

The county administrator’s budget plan would give the school system an increase of $3.5 million, including $1 million to help with its salary “compression” issues, according to Mr. McCulla.

But the total proposed increase for the school system falls $1.4 million short of the amount Superintendent David Jeck seeks. 

Dr. Jeck’s fiscal 2020 plan totals $149.6 million, or 6 percent more, an $8.8 million increase over this year.

Mr. McCulla’s plan also includes about $1.2 million for a 1.4-percent cost-of-living and 0.6-percent merit increase for county government employees.

The supervisors plan to conduct three more budget work sessions:

• 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.

• 4 p.m. Thursday, March 14, with the school board.

• 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.

The supervisors’ public hearing on the proposed budget and capital improvements plan will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, in the Fauquier High School auditorium.

The board plans to adopt those documents and tax rates at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 21.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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