The Loudoun County School Board wants to put a rush on funding for synthetic turf fields at four high schools and a much-needed Dulles South high school.
During its meeting tonight, the board adopted its Capital Improvement Program, which outlines the school system’s construction priorities over the next six years and asks for roughly $467 million to pay for them. The document serves as a formal funding request to the Board of Supervisors.
In adopting the CIP, the School Board made two big changes to the program proposed by school system administrators. Board members first voted unanimously to move funding for a high school, called HS-9, ahead one year to fiscal year 2018. If supervisors agree to fast track $113.78 million for the high school, it would allow the school to open in the fall of 2020 and provide much-needed relief to John Champe High School, which is on track to enroll 930 students more than its building capacity by that year.
Opening HS-9 in 2020 would also allow students’ school assignments in that area to be stabilized one year earlier. The School Board is a week away from adopting new secondary school attendance assignments for the Dulles area, and to handle the higher-than-expected enrollment, members plan to open the middle school (so-called MS-7) as an intermediate school, housing grades eight and nine, while sixth and seventh graders would attend Mercer Middle School and ninth and 10th graders would attend John Champe High School. An accelerated HS-9 would mean one less year of the intermediate school.
Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said he had some reservations about asking supervisors to fund the school earlier because he did not want it to be met with critics saying the board didn’t plan well for enrollment growth.
“We’re basically saying we think there’s an opportunity to move it forward,” he said. “We’ve heard from our colleagues on the other side of the county that there may be support for that, so we hope it is received in that spirit.”
With just six members in favor, the board also voted to accelerate an $8.3 million request to pay for artificial turf fields and resurfaced tracks at the four remaining high schools that still have solely natural grass fields to fiscal year 2019.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian), both big proponents of bringing at least one synthetic field to every Loudoun high school, said it is a quality of life and equity issue.
“This is not just for lacrosse or football. This is for band, PE, and the club sports that would rent these,” Rose said. “It would mean we’re not continuing to build new schools that have two of them while these older schools remain without.”
Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said they wanted to be careful to not upset supervisors by asking for too much at once. “I’m a little concerned that we’ll cause a kerfuffle at our CIP hearing by moving up this turf,” said Maloney, who ultimately voted in favor of advancing the request.
Hornberger, who opposed the motion along with Turgeon and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), said he’d prefer that members of the two boards talk about the issue at a Joint Board of Supervisors/School Board Committee meeting and agree on a plan to retrofit the remaining high schools with synthetic turf.
He noted that the School Board presented a plan to supervisors four years ago requesting turf at the high schools be gradually funded, one each year. Supervisors did not even discuss that option, he said. Instead they have OK’d money for fields irregularly, usually in response to protests from specific school communities.
“I’d much prefer a dialogue on this,” Hornberger said.
DeKenipp made a motion earlier in the evening to include a request for $250,000 for a temporary trailer at Lucketts Elementary School, but it did not win the support of the board. He criticized his colleagues for prioritizing athletic programs over a trailer for a crowded elementary school. “Last I checked I ran for the School Board, not the board of the Redskins,” he said, “yet I spend more time talking about turf fields and press boxes.”
The School Board will present the adopted CIP to the Board of Supervisors Dec. 7. See the full program as recommended by the superintendent here.