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January 8, 2020

Middle school construction plan again under review

File Photo
School board Chairman “Duke” Bland wants to consider delaying expansion and renovation of Warrenton (above) or Taylor Middle School and moving up expansion of Auburn Middle School.
It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about safety and the atmosphere . . . . I would like us to look at what we’re offering at Auburn versus Warrenton and Taylor.
— Susan Pauling, Center District school board member
Fauquier Middle Schools
• Built: 2004
• Students: 570
• Capacity: 657

Cedar Lee
• Built: 1973
• Students: 654
• Capacity: 789

• Built: 1974
• Students: 468
• Capacity: 656

• Built: 1951
• Students: 470
• Capacity: 547

• Built: 1934
• Students: 434
• Capacity: 545
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Fauquier’s school board chairman this week suggested changing a $40-million construction plan that he and colleagues hammered out with the board of supervisors last spring.

“Over the last 30 days, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought,” Raymond “Duke” Bland (Marshall District) said Monday night, soon after the five-member school board elected him as its chairman for 2020. “I’ve looked at my notes about the 10-year enrollment projections. I’m having second thoughts about the middle school plan.”

Mr. Bland floated the idea of moving expansion of Auburn Middle School near New Baltimore ahead of a major project in Warrenton.

After 2-1/2 years of often-tense debate with the county supervisors, who control funding, the school board in April adopted a resolution (at bottom of story) that calls for:

• Expanding Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealeton at an estimated $10 million.

• Expanding and renovating either W.C. Taylor or Warrenton Middle School in the county seat for an estimated $30 million. The other school would get repurposed for offices and other uses.

The board of supervisors adopted the same resolution last March.

Mr. Bland’s suggestion would retain the Cedar Lee project as the top priority, but the estimated cost has risen to $17.5 million because of its expanded scope to accommodate up to 300 more students. That would increase the Bealeton school’s capacity to 1,000.

Expanding Auburn, the newest of Fauquier’s five middle schools, to 922 students — an increase of 300 — would cost an estimated $9.5 million. It also would avoid the use of mobile classrooms during the project in Warrenton, Mr. Bland said.

The school system then would scale back the addition at either Taylor or Warrenton, perhaps reducing the cost by $10 million.

“Either way, we’re at $50 million,” because of the Cedar Lee project’s cost, school board member Donna Grove (Cedar Run) said. “Forty million (dollars, agreed to last spring) was pulled out of thin air.”

Superintendent David Jeck, phoning in from California, agreed: “That number was just a placeholder . . . . They are not realistic numbers.”

Dave Graham, the school system executive director for planning and administration, said: “With the additional seats at Auburn, we wouldn’t need to expand in Warrenton.”

In her first meeting, freshman board member Susan Pauling (Center) expressed concern about equity for students at the aging Warrenton schools in her district.

“It’s not just about the numbers,” Ms. Pauling said. “It’s about safety and the atmosphere . . . . I would like us to look at what we’re offering at Auburn versus Warrenton and Taylor,” built in 1934 and 1951, respectively.

Supervisor Chris Granger (Center) in a phone interview Wednesday called the new proposal to delay renovation of a middle school in Warrenton “a non-starter . . . . If they’re going down that path, no deal.”

Mr. Granger and board of supervisors Chairman Chris Butler (Lee) hammered out the $40-million plan last year in meetings with Mr. Bland and Ms. Grove. The agreement seemed to end the deadlock between the two elected boards.

Mr. Bland’s new proposal would exacerbate Fauquier’s complex busing system, pushing students from Warrenton to outlying schools, Mr. Granger said.

“I don’t have any idea about the rationale behind it,” Mr. Butler said Wednesday. “I want to schedule a meeting with them (the school board). I always try to go into things with an open mind.”

The county’s 2020-21 budget schedule calls for the school board to adopt its five-year capital improvements plan for construction projects Jan. 27 and forward it to the county administration.

Mr. Bland asked school administrators to compile all the projections, along with maps of student population and planned housing developments, as soon as possible. He suggested the school board might call a special meeting to review that information before adopting the capital plan in three weeks.

Mr. Graham stressed Monday night that the cost estimates use averages for the construction market. But, certainty comes only when contractors submit bids. Those costs increase about 5 percent annually, according to his projections.

The Cedar Lee project continues to move ahead, with final interviews of architectural/engineering firms this week. School officials then will select a firm to design the addition in Bealeton.

The county’s five middle schools (Grades 6-8) have 2,573 students and capacity for another 621.

Over the next 10 years, middle school enrollment will grow by 150 students, according to the administration’s official projection.

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

SB 4 8 2019 Resolution Midd... by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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