Loudoun County has a bat problem. A northern long-eared bat problem, to be exact.
The threatened species that rears its young among Northern Virginia trees could hold up the construction of desperately needed schools in the fastest growing part of the county.
“This is not a joke. This is real.” School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) said when he broke the news to his colleagues Tuesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service recently informed Loudoun County school officials that their construction schedule for three Dulles-area schools interferes with the bat’s “transit period,” which is from April to September. Clearing construction sites of trees during the bats’ most sensitive months is prohibited under new federal guidelines set in place Feb. 16.
That means the schools’ construction either needs to be accelerated or pushed back. But, during Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Morse stressed that delaying the Dulles South middle school (MS-7) one year to a 2020 opening would leave the nearby schools with enrollments more than 37 percent over their capacities.
“That’s not functional,” he said.
So, blame the bats. But just as the Board of Supervisors try to squeeze the school system’s capital funding requests within debt constraints, the School Board is making another request.
School Board members voted unanimously Tuesday to request an advance of $3 million to begin site work on MS-7, and wrap up the work ahead of the bats. If supervisors are willing to write the check early, the middle school could be on track for a Fall 2018 opening, Morse said.
Superintendent Eric Williams said the construction department will come back to the board in a few weeks to ask for an advance of about $6.5 million for the preliminary work for the elementary school known as ES-28 and high school known as HS-11. The goal, he said, is to keep the elementary school on target for a fall 2018 opening and the high school for a fall 2019 opening.
“For MS-7, though, the construction department is saying we can’t even wait until early April. We need those funds now,” he said, recognizing that the Board of Supervisors would have to take action at their next business meeting to approve the money.
The School Board also created a priority list of construction projects to be funded in fiscal year 2017 to help supervisors know which projects are most needed. Supervisors have called the School Board’s request for capital projects “impossible” to fund.
The list the board adopted Tuesday, in priority order, is: Dulles South middle school (MS-7); Dulles North elementary school (ES-28); Dulles North high school (HS-11); sixteen modular classrooms; classroom additions at six Dulles South and Dulles North elementary schools; Dulles North elementary school (ES-31); and Dulles South high school (HS-9).
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the CIP and county budget on April 5.