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February 2, 2017

Supervisors: $55-million school plan too pricey

File Photo/Cassandra Brown
Warrenton Middle would merge with Taylor in the new, 1,000-student building along East Shirley Avenue, according to the school board’s proposal. This photo depicts a 1980s addition to WMS, built in the 1930s on Waterloo Street.
It would really be helpful if there was a viable option on the table. If the dollars weren’t there, what would be the second best plan? What is a viable ‘Plan B’ that addresses Warrenton and Taylor in the next two to three years? Because this can’t go on any longer than that.
— Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District)
CIP Work Session
• Topic: Fauquier’s 5-Year Capital Improvements Plan

• Agency: Board of supervisors

• When: 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1.

• Where: Inn at Vint Hill, near New Baltimore.

• Topics: Middle school improvements, broadband internet service, public safety, courthouse improvements, parks and recreation, public library.

• Requested: More than $300 million for potential projects.

• Next: Supervisors and school board soon will meet to discuss proposal for $55 million, 1,000-student consolidated middle school in Warrenton and potential alternatives.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Fauquier’s board of supervisors wants an alternative to the plan for a $55-million consolidated middle school in Warrenton.

All five board supervisors Wednesday expressed reservations about the proposed 1,000-student school during a “retreat” to discuss construction projects.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the school board unanimously had endorsed the consolidation proposal, hoping the supervisors would include it in the county’s 2018-22 Capital Improvements Plan.

That appears unlikely, based on supervisors’ comments during the 95-minute discussion of more than $300 million in potential projects.

> Summary document at bottom of story

The board’s budget schedule calls for adoption of the fiscal 2018 budget and the five-year CIP on March 23. But, County Administrator Paul S. McCulla told the supervisors they could postpone adopting the updated capital plan.

The board plans no tax increase for the new fiscal year that starts July 1. The CIP’s changed fiscal implications would start in 2019.

The supervisors want to learn more about the middle school (Grades 6-8) proposal. In the next two weeks, they plan to meet with the school board to discuss it and possible alternatives that would address issues at the aging Taylor and Warrenton middle schools for substantially less money.

> Poll: What do you think?

A decision about middle schools would affect spending on fire/rescue stations, a new public safety office building, courthouse renovations, parks, utility systems, the landfill and the library. Approved capital projects also will affect Fauquier’s real estate tax rate, which stands at $1.039 per $100 assessed value.

The adopted 2017-21 CIP totals $86.2 million

The consolidated middle school would replace Taylor and Warrenton, with capacities for 547 and 545 students, respectively.

Enrollment in the county’s 11,000-student public school system remains flat, with a slow, steady decline projected over the next decade. The county’s population last year increased by 386 people, according to the latest estimate from state demographers.

“Schools have completely dominated our debt service,” Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) said.

Except for a “few upgrades” to fire stations in recent years, Fauquier has not addressed other big ticket needs, said Mr. Granger, who served on the Middle School Advisory Committee.

In the last decade, the county has taken on about $110 million in debt for school projects — including the construction of Kettle Run High and Greenville Elementary near New Baltimore and the renovation of Fauquier High in Warrenton, Mr. McCulla said.

Mr. Granger suggested the board needs to “balance” the school system’s priorities with other needs.

Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) agreed.

Acknowledging middle school needs, Mrs. McDaniel also ranks public safety, economic development and the extension of broadband internet service to rural Fauquier among her top priorities.

“That will be a game changer in Fauquier County,” Mrs. McDaniel said of broadband, which could cost up to $20 million over five years. The supervisors expect the system to pay for itself over time.

Expanded broadband would allow citizens to telecommute, enhance public safety services and attract job-creating technology companies to Fauquier, she said.

It also would help grow the commercial tax base and generate revenue to help fund other construction projects, Mrs. McDaniel suggested.

“It fixes so many problems in our community,” she said. “It gives us more control over our destiny.”

Championed by board Chairman Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run), broadband remains a top priority among the supervisors.

Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott) looks forward to meeting with the school board to discuss the consolidated middle school plan and potential options.

“I’ve got to get more of a handle on the middle school issue,” Mr. Trumbo said.

Could he support including $55 million in the proposed CIP for the new school?

“I can’t answer that question until I meet with my school board member (Suzanne Sloane) on Friday,” he said. “It may be that I may not have heard something. I want to hear more about what they’re thinking and why.”

Mrs. McDaniel wants to reserve judgment until the supervisors meet with the school board.

“I just don’t have enough information to decide,” she said in an interview. “I’ve gone back and forth on it. There are lots of moving parts.”

Mr. Granger hopes that besides defending the plan, the school board will present a less expensive alternative.

“It would really be helpful if there was a viable option on the table,” he said in an interview. “If the dollars weren’t there, what would be the second best plan? What is a viable ‘Plan B’ that addresses Warrenton and Taylor in the next two to three years? Because this can’t go on any longer than that.”

After watching the supervisors’ discussion Wednesday afternoon at the Inn at Vint Hill, school Superintendent David Jeck said: “I expected them to do what I would have done, and that’s request additional information and ask questions.

“This is part of the process,” Dr. Jeck added. “We will give the board of supervisors whatever information they need. We plan to be very cooperative and very transparent.”

He has no “regrets” about the school board and its staff not meeting with the supervisors before moving forward with the consolidation plan, he said in an interview.

The 40-member advisory panel and school board backed the plan after a “very long” review, the superintendent said. “It’s the option the school board believes in.”

The $55 million plan represents a “major investment,” he acknowledged.

The supervisors also briefly discussed moving the Community Development Department to the John Marshall Building on Main Street.

The department occupies portions of the county court and office building on Culpeper Street and the Warren Green Building on Hotel Street in Warrenton.

Under one scenario, Fauquier’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court would move from the John Marshall Building to the county court/office building.

That four-story Culpeper Street structure already houses Fauquier County Circuit Court.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Mr. Granger said of consolidating the courts in one building. “It’s going to have to be done.”

Disappointed with the Fauquier County Water and Sanitation Authority’s handling of various utility projects of concern to the county, the supervisors also will meet with the WSA board to iron out their differences.

FY 2018 - 2022 CIP Work Session 2 1 17 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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