Voting for All Projects Is Key

Voting for All Projects Is Key

Three soon-to-be schools in the Dulles District await funding.

Loudoun County residents go to the polls in less than a month's time to vote on the method of funding for eight Loudoun County Public School improvements or new school building projects.

Three of those eight projects: a new elementary school (ES-17); a new Arcola Elementary School; and a new middle school (MS-5), have anticipated location sites in the Dulles area.

Loudoun County Supervisor Steve Snow, (R-Dulles), said the need for additional schools in the Dulles District is crucial.

"We have the most children in the county," he said. "Our residents need the schools."

But both Snow and School Board member Robert Dupree (Dulles) concede that the improvement and new building projects should be accepted as a whole.

"We want to focus on why the passage of all eight projects is needed. Whether they are new schools in my district, new schools in western Loudoun, or badly needed renovations of three older schools, every single one of them is needed," Dupree said.

The student population countywide has steadily increased from 15,000 students to 47,000 over the past 10 years. On Aug. 29, the county opened twice as many school doors as it had in 1991, according to a school-system fact sheet.

The most recent Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) adopted by the School Board and Board of Supervisors estimates that student enrollment will increase by another 20,000 students in the next four years.

The other projects that will be listed on the ballot include a new elementary school (ES-4) on the Harmony Intermediate School site; a new western Loudoun-area high school (HS-3); and the renovation of Hillsboro, Rolling Ridge and Sugarland elementary schools.

THIS IS the first time in the county's history that the school system's bond referendum has not been packaged together. But officials are confident that residents will continue to support the necessary improvements and additions, especially since Loudoun County voters have approved the last 14 consecutive bond referendums.

In fact, all have passed with relatively high voter approval. Wayde Byard, Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman, said the lowest plurality the county has seen on a bond referendum was 57 percent.

The Board of Supervisors' stated reason for separating the question was to give the citizens a little more decision-making power, Dupree said.

Snow said he did not vote in favor of separating the question and felt it was a bad decision on the board's behalf to do so.

"They're all our kids. It should all be rolled into one question. It serves no purpose to separate those issues," he said.

Dupree said he and other members of the School Board have been emphasizing the importance of approving funding for all eight projects.

"I really do believe this is one school system," he said. "And all eight are all badly needed. They would not have been in this year's CIP or been on the ballot if they weren't."

Plus, he said, supporting the bonds for all the projects now is more fiscally prudent than waiting or forcing the board to look for alternate funding.

The total cost of all of the school projects in general obligation bonds is $180,440,000. The cost for schools in the Dulles District totals $71,300,000, about 40 percent of the total amount.

Dupree said that whether the bonds are approved or not, the need will still be there and the board will have to come up with other funding mechanisms that will not be as cost effective.

"We want to motivate voters to support all eight because this is the best deal for them," he said. "It will cost taxpayers more if the vote fails. This is the best, most advantageous, most economical way."

BYARD SAID the new Arcola Elementary School is intended to replace the old one located on Goshen Road in Aldie. The old school was closed last fall and turned over to the county. Recently, it was used as a shelter for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Sam Adamo, LCPS director of planning and legislative services, said they are in the process of working out a possible land swap with a developer that will save taxpayers an estimated $1.5 million. Adamo said by doing the swap, the school system avoids tearing down the old school on the taxpayers' dime.

"We'd be getting a much bigger site than we have, swapping our current 15 acres for 21 from one of the developers," which means more acreage, in an area more central to the community and better access to central utilities, he said.

"This way we're starting with a blank piece of land. We'd build right away," he said. "If we went with the old site, we'd have to demolish the building, get ride of the trash and then start building again."

Both elementary schools will be built to accommodate approximately 875 students. Some of the students who will be served by the new Arcola currently attend Pinebrook Elementary School in Aldie.

The unnamed elementary school (ES-17) will serve students who currently attend Legacy and Mill Run elementary schools and students who live in the Loudoun Valley Estates II subdivision area.

The unnamed middle school (MS5) in the Dulles South area will accommodate approximately 1,350 students. Adamo said Mercer Middle School is handling the area's growth on its own right now but schools officials anticipate that it soon will be overcrowded and will need the relief the new middle school will provide.

If voters do not approve funding for the projects, the School Board and Board of Supervisors will have to look at alternate sources of funding.

Byard said the boards will likely look to the Virginia Public School Authority, which provides financing to localities through the sale of its bonds for funding, if it becomes necessary.

Dupree said it's likely that students will have to be bused, possibly to other districts, if funding doesn't come through or if the board is unable to find other means of financing the new schools.

"If you have a situation where existing schools become unacceptably overcrowded, we're going to have to bus children to other schools and those schools will probably be in other districts. So there is a countywide impact."