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February 6, 2017 · OPINION

School board, supervisors must work together

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The school board and county supervisors conduct a joint meeting in March 2016.
By John Green

After their recent retreat, the county supervisors all agreed the school board’s Taylor/Warrenton Middle School solution was too expensive. They want to hear other options. I can understand that after what happened with the last major school renovation – Fauquier High School. We still don’t know the full cost.

Let me refresh some memories: Back on March 9, 2011, in a Fauquier Times editorial, then school Superintendent Jonathan Lewis stated: “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.”

This would not be possible, because you can only have one bond issue for each project. The FHS renovation was considered one project. And, if the bond issue exceeds $25 million, it must be approved by the voters. Both these conditions applied to the FHS project.

On the next day, March 10, 2011, a joint supervisor/school board meeting was held. Speaking for the supervisors, Chairman Graham, stated their understanding as that the complete FHS renovation would cost $25 million. School officials did not reply. When asked if the renovation could be done for $25 million, school officials said yes.

School documents showed things differently. The new, four-story classroom building would cost $25 million, but they also showed that to complete the renovation would require an additional $35.8 million bringing total cost to nearly $61 million. This number is almost the same number Dr. Lewis used when first talking about FHS renovation.

Negotiations between the school board and supervisors continued. The school board finally submitted a list of “needs” (top priority) and “wants.” The boards arrived at a compromise: The $25 million bond issue would go to build the classroom building. An additional $11 million would be used to cover selected “needs” and “wants” from the list. The school board would contribute $8 million from its funds, and the county would provide an additional $3 million and the $25 million bond issue brought total cost to $36 million.

Many of the “needs” and “wants” items were not covered. The total “wants” list came to $19.9 million. The total estimated cost of “needs” and “wants” came to $25.6 million. If you ask what was the total cost of the FHS renovation project, we don’t know with any accuracy. Have all of the “needs” and “wants” items been completed? We don’t know.

The school division insisted on building FHS to Leadership in Energy& Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard. This cost money and some of the systems were never completed, such as the geothermal heating/cooling system. Part of FHS still has to use the old heating/cooling system because there was not enough money to complete the system. I wonder how well it works. I’ve read such systems don’t work as efficiently in areas with heavy clay soils, such as we have.

I believe the school board and supervisors must work closely together on these large projects. In the past, the two boards were more adversaries than partners in an important community project. And, I would still like to know the total cost of FHS renovation and what remains to be done.

A more involved public would help, especially on your tax bill.
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