Loudoun Board Majority Backs Upgrades At Potomac Falls High School

A synthetic turf field and a little more classroom space are coming to Potomac Falls High School in Cascades.

As it divvied out payments from leftover FY15 funds Wednesday, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted to increase the allocation to the school by $1.6 million. The new stadium turf was approved by a narrow 5-4 decision that had critics calling on the school system to do a better job planning for improvements at its older facilities.

A delegation of Potomac Falls supporters, led by School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), spoke at the board meeting to urge supervisors to help bring the high school up to par with others in the county. They were joined by Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), who made a passionate plea for funding, saying that her district has asked for little in recent years while other areas of the county have enjoyed new schools, roads and other facilities.

The board majority voted to allocate $1.2 million for the new field and $400,000 to install two classroom trailers, as well as $40,000 for a previously endorsed plan to upgrade the school’s laundry room.

The money comes from unallocated general fund money—$32.5 million—left over from the fiscal year that ended June 30. County policies require the money to be used for one-time expenditures or to be set aside to potentially off-set tax rate increases in the next fiscal year.

Also approved for funding were:

  • $1.5 million to help cover cost overruns and programmatic additions for the the Lovettsville Community Center construction project;
  • $350,000 for consultant support to the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure; and
  • $1.25 million to build out the new Department of Economic Development office scheduled to open next spring at Loudoun Station in Ashburn.

The board set aside $7.5 million that could be used to reduce the real estate tax rate by 2 cents next year, and about $18 million for capital projects in FY17.

In opposing funding for the turf field, board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) and finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) warned that school construction needs have already put the county on precarious financial ground.

The Superintendent Eric Williams’ request for funding construction of five new schools next year—two more than had been scheduled—would require more single-year debt capacity than available, meaning other county construction projects would likely be put on hold to keep up with growing enrollment.

“This should not be happening,” Buona said, objecting to the presentation of the Potomac Falls upgrade as emergency needs. He said school administrators should have plans for remodeling and upgrades in a capital preservation budget that allows for long-term fiscal planning. “It is just pathetic that we are in this situation as a Board of Supervisors. Over and over again because of a lack of planning on Loudoun County Public School’s lack of planning.”

Letourneau said choices need to be made about whether to add artificial turf fields or provide adequate classroom space and that the School Board should decide what the priorities are. “We don’t even know if we can handle paying for our fire stations. Come on,” he said.

But it is was Volpe who carried the day. “Search your heart and do the right thing,” she said just before winning the five votes needed to secure the extra funding.

In the stadium turf vote, she was joined by County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) and supervisors Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), Janet S. Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) and James G. Bonfils (R-Broad Run). Supervisors Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) voted with Buona and Letourneau in opposition.

Votes for the classrooms and laundry facility were unanimous.

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