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August 13, 2017 · OPINION

County must improve school project planning

The Fauquier High School renovation included a new, four-story classroom building.
By John Green
Bealeton

Before we consider upgrading our middle schools, we should consider how the last project, the Fauquier High renovation, went. The planning and execution left a lot to be desired.

Planning for the FHS project started long before the March 9, 2011, Fauquier Times op-ed column by then-Superintendent Jonathan Lewis, who wrote: “Due to the county’s debt capacity limitations, the entire project (FHS) could not be completed at one time, so the school board requested $25 million to begin work, with the understanding that additional renovations would be scheduled as debt capacity became available.”

Dr. Lewis’ plan called for the board of supervisors to approve $25 million in 2011 and then three additional bond issues of $3.8 million in 2013, $17.8 million in 2014 and $17.8 million in 2015. Dr. Lewis’ plan would cost $63 million over five years. It was approved by the school board. It is in conflict with county policy of one bond issue per project.

The day after publican of Dr. Lewis’ column, there was a joint meeting of supervisors and school board. The supervisors said $25 million was available for FHS renovation. School officials said nothing. When asked if renovations could be done for $25 million, school system leaders said yes. No one asked for clarification. It set the stage for an underfunded renovation project.

Talks continued and, on July 25, 2011, a FHS Renovation Agreement was signed. It called for spending $32.8 million. The school system would contribute $8.8 million of that amount in cash.

Where did the schools get $8.8 million in cash when budgets were being cut because of the “Great Recession?” Little more than half of the school’s requested funding was approved. Numerous items had to be cut from the plan.

On Jan. 10, 2013, an Amended FHS Agreement was signed. Funding was increased to $36.5 million. It was decided some classrooms slated for demolition would be needed but had to be upgraded. A few renovation items were also approved. They were selected from a “Needs” and “Wants” list school system leaders developed. Millions of dollars of “Needs” and “Wants” remained outstanding.

A final Funding and Scope Agreement was signed May 28, 2013. Total funding remained the same. A new term was introduced: “Phase 3 Renovations.” The amount is the same amount mentioned in the Jan. 10 agreement. It was not additional funding.

The May 28 agreement sets the final cost of the FHS renovation at $36.5 million. It also authorizes the school school to obtain additional funds for FHS through the Capital Improvements Program, School Division Asset Replacement Fund or Comprehensive Maintenance Program.

If any of this additional funding is used to accomplish “Needs” and “Wants” listed for the FHS renovation, it will not be counted toward that project. The total cost of the FHS renovation will be officially listed as $36.5 million. If I could only do this with my household budget.

We can do better than this in handling our county business. That can only happen when you get involved.
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Tom LaHaye · August 21, 2017 at 1:15 pm
Interesting statement “Due to the county’s debt capacity limitations, the entire project (FHS) could not be completed at one time, so the school board requested $25 million to begin work, with the understanding that additional renovations would be scheduled as debt capacity became available.” As I recall, there was no debt capacity limitation but rather an authority limitation; borrowing over $25 million at one time would require explicit approval by the taxpayers. By structuring the funding stream as they did, the supervisors and school board were able to spend millions of taxpayer dollars without taxpayer participation in the decision making.
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