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August 4, 2017

School board rejects Warrenton Middle upgrade

The school board unanimously supports the option depicted in this conceptual plan for a new structure on the Taylor Middle School campus along East Shirley Avenue in Warrenton.
We owe it to the taxpayers to give them the best option.
— School board member Duke Bland
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Fauquier school board’s position on how to address two aging buildings in Warrenton remains unchanged.

The board Friday rejected two options for renovating and expanding Warrenton Middle School, at estimated costs of $33.5 million and $44.8 million.

Although they took no vote, all five members remained steadfast in their support for construction of a new, 800-student building on the Taylor Middle School campus along East Shirley Avenue.

“We owe it to the taxpayers to give them the best option,” Duke Bland (Marshall District) said during a special meeting Friday morning.

Architects estimate the new school would cost $45.4 million.

Even with extensive renovation, Warrenton Middle would remain an old building with inherent problems on a tight, 12-acre campus, school board members said. Some parts of the renovated school would remain inaccessible to handicapped students, for example. Renovation also would include a second and tricky vehicle access through the school bus garage property behind the Warrenton firehouse.

Only Chairman Brian Gorg (Center) addressed the political reality of funding a new school.

“The true elephant in the room is it was not approved by the board of supervisors,” Mr. Gorg said.

The supervisors, who control spending, in March unanimously rejected proposals to build a new school because of its cost.

Based on a 45-member community committee’s recommendation, the school board originally proposed a 1,000-student structure at an estimated cost of $61 million. But, supervisors balked at the price.

The school board a couple weeks later came back with a plan for a 950-student building at $12 million less. Again, the supervisors said no.

Supervisor Chris Granger (Center), who represents the county seat, consistently has pushed for renovation and expansion of Warrenton Middle School, built on Waterloo Street in 1934.

The supervisors’ capital improvement plan includes $33 million for the middle school project.

That would cover the least expensive option — renovating Warrenton Middle and building modest additions for a capacity of 800 students — in a new report that school officials released Monday.

But, the school board believes renovating Warrenton would, in the words of Don Mason (Lee) “put lipstick on a pig.” Both options for renovating WMS would require spending about $2 million for temporary classroom trailers during construction, which could take up to 40 months.

“That’s a significant amount of money to spend that’s a disruption for students,” school board member Suzanne Sloane (Scott) said during Friday morning’s special meeting.

In the new report, released to the public Monday, architects did not consider the possibility of moving Warrenton’s 450 students to the county’s four other middle schools during construction. That might save money and speed the renovation, Mr. Gorg suggested.

Mr. Gorg on Friday also asked what his board would do if the supervisors again decline to fund a new school.

“I think we’ve already compromised to an 800-student school,” Donna Grove (Cedar) said.

Of the less expensive option for renovating Warrenton Middle — retaining the entire building with modest additions, Ms. Grove said: “No way can I support that.”

The second renovation option calls for saving the original building, demolishing the 1981 addition and replacing that portion with a modern, two-story wing.

“I’m looking for the finish line,” Superintendent David Jeck said. “The escalation costs (5 percent or more a year) are scary . . . . Time’s of the essence, and I think we need to move forward with a recommendation.”

The school board plans to meet with the supervisors in two weeks. The board Friday tentatively agreed — it will vote Monday, Aug. 14 — to ask the supervisors to schedule a referendum on debt for a new school.

The supervisors have a policy that requires voter approval for any project that would require borrowing $25 million or more.

If the supervisors agree to schedule a referendum, it would take six to 12 months to get the issue before voters, County Administrator Paul McCulla said during the deliberations in March. That means a referendum could take place during the general election November 2018 or during a special election earlier next year.

Under any of the options, Taylor and Warrenton would merge, leaving the county with four middle schools rather than five.

The three options:

• $33.5 million — Retain and renovate all of the existing Warrenton Middle; build additions; reconfigure parking and vehicle access, with second entrance/exit through county garage site to East Shirley Avenue at firehouse.

• $44.8 million — Retain and renovate the original part of Warrenton Middle facing Waterloo Street; demolish 1980s addition and expand school; reconfigure parking and vehicle access, with second entrance/exit through county garage site to East Shirley Avenue at firehouse.

• $45.4 million — Build a new middle school for 800 students on the Taylor campus. It would replace both existing middle schools in Warrenton.

Extended Middle Schools Modernization Study 080417 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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vpfuechsel · August 7, 2017 at 12:12 pm
I would plead with the town to keep the historic core of the middle school. It would provide a good solution for our need for a larger library space, has plenty of parking, and the theatre could be rented out for community events.
The newer classroom wing could be used for office space, and the fields could become a community park.
Please consider the many ways that keeping the school grounds and historic building could benefit Warrenton residents!
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