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August 28, 2018

Two years later, still no middle school decision

The school board favors new building on Taylor Middle campus.
Two Aging Schools
> Taylor Middle

• Where: 350 E. Shirley Ave.

• Built: 1951, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 443

• Capacity: 547

• Building: 93,000 square feet.

• Acres: 12

• Parking spaces: 58

> Warrenton Middle

• Where: 244 Waterloo St.

• Built: 1934, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 417

• Capacity: 545

• Building: 94,000 square feet.

• Acres: 18

• Parking spaces: 103
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Confusion and indecision still dominate discussions about what to do with Warrenton’s aging middle schools.

Almost two years after a 45-member committee recommended consolidating the two schools at the Taylor Middle site, Fauquier’s school board seems no closer to a decision on the project.

> Project timeline at bottom of story

The board Monday night met with four of the five county supervisors to discuss a consulting company’s proposed, large-scale energy savings contract.

But, after the consultant’s presentation, Supervisors Chris Granger (Center District) said: “In my mind, we need to choose what to do with the middle schools, then do this (energy assessment project) . . . and then figure out what will be cut in later years to keep debt down.”

After the four supervisors left, the school board members debated how to move forward with the middle school project.

Donna Grove (Cedar Run) asked: “What do we have to discuss when we don’t know what the decision is” on proposals from design/build firms to build a new middle school?

As of last month, five companies remained in the running to build Fauquier’s next middle school — assuming the project gets funded. The identity of those companies remains confidential.

A nine-member committee — whose members’ names also remain secret — could make a recommendation in September to the school board, which would select a contractor, according to county Procurement Manager Susan Monaco. 

Fauquier’s school system in January issued a request for proposals from architectural and engineering firms for an 800-student building, with the ability to expand to 950. School officials want a “prototypical” plan — based on a building already constructed elsewhere.

The building would replace Taylor and Warrenton middle schools, built in 1951 and 1934, respectively. It would stand on the Taylor campus along West Shirley Avenue in Warrenton.

Without setting a budget for the project, the school board last November unanimously decided to seek new proposals. That decision came after almost a year of discussions that failed to produce an agreement with the supervisors for funding construction of a new school.

The school system spent about $15,800 on a geotechnical study to collect soil samples on the Taylor Middle site. Preliminary results indicate the soils would support a new building there, according to school officials.

But, school board members Monday night brought up another potential challenge on that property: the 500-year floodplain.

The supervisors in June amended the comprehensive plan, which states: “School facilities should be designed on sites that will allow for future expansion . . . respecting environmental elements such as the 100-year and 500-year floodplains.”

Most of the Taylor property behind the existing school lies within a 500-year floodplain.

But, the amendment does not prohibit building there.

“A number of disasters have occurred over the past years, which indicate that 100- and 500-year floods do occur,” County Administrator Paul McCulla explained in a follow-up email Tuesday. “When they occur, they can often have devastating effects on structures located within floodplains.

“Since our schools represent a substantial investment by the community’s tax dollars and are some of the — if not the — most expensive investments the county makes in public infrastructure, the county wished to protect that investment by not siting expensive structures in a floodplain . . . . ” Mr. McCulla added. “Any attempt to site a school within a 500-year floodplain would be inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.”

School board member Duke Bland (Marshall) said Monday night he wants “to discuss the renovation of those two schools with $30 million” as an alternative to a new building.

“I’m going to wholeheartedly agree with Duke,” Brian Gorg (Center) added.

The county’s capital improvements plan includes $33 million for the renovation and/or expansion of middle schools in Warrenton.

But, last September the school board rejected the supervisors’ offer of a $33-million plan to renovate and expand Warrenton Middle School. Taylor would close under that scenario.

But, the school board — at least officially — has remained steadfast in its preference for new construction on the Taylor campus. 

The board of supervisors, which controls funding, will have the final say.

School board members on Sept. 10 will continue to discuss the project and possibly will revisit renovation options.

Supervisors Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Lee), Chris Butler (Lee) and Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) also took part in Monday’s meeting with the school board. Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott) missed the discussion.

Middle school project timeline

• August 2015
RRMM architects and consultants release modernization studies on Taylor and Warrenton middle schools with estimated costs for renovation and replacement.

• November 2015
School administrators decide Taylor Middle has top priority for renovation or replacement.

• August 25, 2016
The 45-member middle school planning committee meets for the first time to discuss renovation or new construction.

• October 27, 2016
Middle school committee, under direction of the school system and architects, move to consolidation of Taylor and Warrenton.

• December 7, 2016
The committee recommends consolidated school on the Taylor site.

• January 19, 2017
Board of supervisors expresses skepticism about the committee’s recommendation for a consolidated school.

• January 31, 2017
School board agrees to pursue 1,000-seat, $55-million middle school in Warrenton.

• February 1, 2017
County supervisors deem the proposal too expensive.

• February 21, 2017
Meeting with the supervisors, the school board insists the $55 million consolidated middle school plan makes the most sense.

• March 6, 2017
School board proposes an alternative, $43.3-million plan for a 950-seatbuilding on the Taylor site.

• March 22, 2017
Supervisors reject $43 million plan.

• March 28, 2017
County supervisors adopt fiscal 2018 budget with $33 million planned for middle school project.

• April 4, 2017
Two supervisors and two school board members discuss the project at a committee meeting; supervisors suggest looking at other renovation options.

• April 17, 2017
School board agrees to ask consultants for more information about 800-student renovated school at Warrenton compared to 800-student new school at Taylor.

• July 26, 2017
School board receives new consultant report on Warrenton Middle renovation with three options: $33.5 million to retain and renovate all of Warrenton Middle; $44.8 million to retain, renovate and expand Warrenton Middle; $45.4 million build a new, 800-student middle school on Taylor campus.

• August 4, 2017
School board agrees to ask the supervisors to take the plan for a $45.4-million consolidated school on Taylor site to a referendum, which county voters would decide.

• September 7, 2017
County supervisors and school board meet and discuss referendum, middle school proposals.

• September 14, 2017
In a letter to the school board, the county board of supervisors offer to fund expansion and renovation of Warrenton Middle School, but not construction of a replacement.

• September 18, 2017
School board slams the letter from supervisors.

• November 2017
School board unanimously agrees to solicit bids for the new middle school without setting a budget for the project.

• January 10, 2018
School system solicits proposals from architectural and/or engineering firms for an 800-student prototypical building with the ability to expand to 950 students.

• February 28, 2018
School system receives 16 proposals from firms.

• April 2018
Nine-member anonymous committee and County Procurement Manager Sue Monaco cut potential firms to five.

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