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January 20, 2017

Middle school proposal faces supervisor skepticism

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
School board member Donna Grove listens as Supervisor Chris Granger lays out his concerns Thursday night.
School Superintendent David Jeck and Supervisor Holder Trumbo.
I have a lot of hesitation on going that route of a 1,000-student school. I wouldn’t want to get $55 million down the road and we still have another problem in the western part of the county.
— Supervisor Chris Granger
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The county supervisor who represents Warrenton this week expressed serious reservations about a committee’s recommendation to replace the town’s two aging middle schools.

Based on community feedback, consultants suggest building a $55-million consolidated school on the Taylor campus along East Shirley Avenue. The school board spent $137,000 on the five-month study.

The consolidated middle school would accommodate 900 to 1,000 students. The recommendation includes an optional 300-student expansion to Auburn Middle School near New Baltimore.

But, in a meeting with school board representatives Thursday night, Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) said increased traffic on East Shirley and long bus rides for students loom as major issues for the plan.

“I just worry about the two lanes on Shirley,” said Mr. Granger, calling prospects for widening the busy street very unlikely.

The consolidated school also would share Alwington Boulevard access — between Walmart and Home Depot — with Brumfield Elementary School. The planned, 227-home Alwington subdivision will use the same street.

The prospect of 1,500 students at two schools and the traffic they would generate in that area concern the supervisor.

He also suggested that concentrating middle school capacity in Warrenton would perpetuate a system that buses students from the Bealeton area to Warrenton and children around the county seat to Marshall.

Mr. Granger, who served on the middle school advisory committee, said he agrees the situations at Taylor and Warrenton demand attention. But, leaders also need to consider the needs at Cedar Lee at Bealeton and Auburn over the next decade. Those two areas will experience the county’s most intense residential development in the foreseeable future, he said.

A smaller project in Warrenton might allow the county to save money that it could apply to a new middle school in Bealeton, for example, he suggested. The Mintbrook subdivision developer has “proffered” a school site that could help address the need there.

The supervisor also noted that planning for school construction could align more consistently with the county’s development patterns.

“I have a lot of hesitation on going that route of a 1,000-student school” in Warrenton, said Mr. Granger, a parent who consistently has served as an advocate for public education in Fauquier. “I wouldn’t want to get $55 million down the road and we still have another problem in the western part of the county.”

School board Chairman Brian Gorg (Center) said the recent study focused only on the aging buildings, not enrollment capacity. Warrenton Middle School dates to the 1930s and Taylor to the 1950s. Both have failing systems, high maintenance costs and designs that challenge modern instruction.

The school board has taken no official position on a solution. It formally received the committee and consultants’ report earlier Thursday.

But, Mr. Granger’s concerns seemed to deflate Mr. Gorg and Donna Grove (Cedar Run). Those three, along with Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District), received a presentation from architects and discussed the report in a liaison meeting as representatives of their respective boards.

Mr. Trumbo said he understands the problems with Taylor and Warrenton, as well as the logic of a consolidated middle school in Warrenton.

“My concern is . . . the increase over the cost of these projects over time,” Mr. Gorg said. “My concern is for taxpayers . . . if we don’t do this now.”

Mr. Granger said, “I would say the present costs put out there are exceeding the existing tax rate . . . . It would require a substantial swing” in the supervisors’ willingness to raise the real estate levy.

The school board hopes to decide on a strategy this spring and present it to the supervisors to include in the county Capital Improvements Plan.

But, based on Thursday’s discussion, it could take far longer to develop consensus with the board of supervisors, which determines funding for school projects.

Middle School consultant presentation by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Fauquier County Middle School Districts 2016-17 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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