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August 8, 2017

Supervisors wary of school board’s $45-million plan

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The supervisors, who set taxes and control spending, probably will meet with the school board soon to discuss the request for a referendum.
I want to hear from (the school board). When you don’t support the least expensive option, I’m sure there’s a rationale.
— Supervisor Holder Trumbo
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
For now, three of the five Fauquier supervisors remain undecided about whether voters should decide if the county builds a $45.4-million middle school in Warrenton.

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

Although it took no vote, the five-member board unanimously backed construction of a 800-student building on the Taylor Middle School campus along East Shirley Avenue.

The school board also tentatively agreed — it will vote Monday, Aug. 14 — to ask the supervisors to schedule a referendum on debt for a new school.

The school board hopes to meet with the supervisors within the next couple of weeks to discuss the project. As of Tuesday, no date had been set for such a meeting.

Supervisors’ Vice Chairman Chris Butler (Lee District), Holder Trumbo (Scott) and Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) want to learn directly from school board members about their support for a new building before discussing specifics, they said in interviews this week.

Supervisors’ Chairman Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run) said he would allow voters to decide the matter.

“I’d put it to a vote, if requested to do so,” Mr. Gerhardt said Tuesday. “I’d let the voters decide.”

But, he added: “I would prefer (the school board) would work toward the $30-million renovation of Warrenton (Middle School).”

Supervisor Chris Granger (Center), who represents Warrenton, suggested a referendum for a $45.4-million middle school would fail, costing time and money.

“It would be a waste,” Mr. Granger said. “It would put another six months-plus on this, and the cost (of construction) would continue to escalate.”

A new middle school would serve mostly Center District students — making it a particularly hard sell to voters across the county, suggested the supervisor, who consistently has pushed for renovation and expansion of Warrenton Middle School, built on Waterloo Street in 1934.

Given that, “it would put me in an extremely difficult location” if the matter went to referendum, making it difficult for him to oppose the new school proposal, Mr. Granger said.

The Center District supervisor backs the $33-million plan to remodel Warrenton Middle, because the county’s construction plan provides such funding and because he believes “a school integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood is the way to go.”

Additionally, “it gets something done,” Mr. Granger said. “What people are saying is, ‘Get something done’.”

“I want to hear from them,” Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) said of the school board. “When you don’t support the least expensive option, I’m sure there’s a rationale.”

The board’s senior member, Mr. Trumbo declined to speculate about whether voters would approve construction of $45.4-million middle school project.

“That’s why you ask the question, if there’s a referendum.”

But, “when it was $55 million-plus, my reaction was there’s no way the voters are going to approve that,” Mr. Trumbo said.

Supervisor Butler on Monday declined comment on the school board’s proposal.

“I’ve not yet been briefed by” Lee District school board member Donald Mason, Mr. Butler wrote in a text. “I’d rather hear the proposals from Mr. Mason before I comment. We plan to talk this week.”

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

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

The supervisors later effectively scuttled a $55-million plan for a 950-student middle school.

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

Released last week, a new report outlines 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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