School Board: Several Building Projects Need to be Fast-Tracked

Keeping up with persistent enrollment growth, improving school safety, and converting the final two high school stadiums to artificial turf has the Loudoun County School Board requesting $574 million for capital projects over the next several years.

The board on Tuesday adopted its Capital Improvement Program that will serve as a road map for building and other capital projects from 2019 to 2024. The program looks to accelerate several school buildings to keep up with the 9,500 more students expected to enroll by 2024. To accommodate 90,768 students countywide, board members say they need more school buildings funded, built and opened earlier than initially planned.

“You’ll see that we’ve accelerated much from 2024, and accelerated it to 2019 all the way to 2023,” Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said after the board voted 8-1 to adopt the CIP. The document will serve as a funding request to the county Board of Supervisors. “Now the Board of Supervisors will take a look at this balance to see if how it aligns with their CIP budget requirements. I’m sure we’ll get some feedback on what direction they intend to take.”

Superintendent Eric Williams had recommended advancing Dulles North middle school MS-14 four years earlier than initially planned to have it ready for the growing number of students in fall of 2026. But the majority of board Tuesday said that school is needed even earlier.

“If you look at the numbers, we’re over capacity in that area as of 2022 by a lot,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said.

All but one board member, Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), backed the idea of advancing design of that middle school one year to 2022 and construction one year to 2023, so it could open in fall of 2025.

The board also backed the superintendent’s recommendation to advance two other schools’ construction: Dulles North elementary school ES-23, which it wants to accelerate one year to be funded in fiscal year 2019 and open in fall of 2021; and Dulles South elementary school ES-29, which they want to advance two years to also open in 2021.

Board members also unanimously agreed to advance the Student Welcome and Adult Education center in eastern Loudoun by two years, to be funded in fiscal year 2021 and opened in 2023. The center will serve as a one-stop-shop for students not yet proficient in English, as well as provide space for adult education programs. The division has not yet purchased land for that project.

They also voted unanimously to advance a $16.4 million project up three years to 2020, and that’s the construction of security vestibules at 75 school entrances. It will require the renovation of school entrances so that front office staff members can see when people enter and leave school buildings. Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) made the motion to move that project up because it would align with the school system’s plan to install electronic locks at 60 schools in 2019.

“We can change the locks and build the vestibules at the same time,” Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis said, adding, “This is a big project.”

All of the board members backed a motion by Morse to add $1.75 million into fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021 to improve broadband internet connections in the schools. “The challenge is trying to keep up with the needs of our students, especially as we add more devices in the classrooms,” Morse said.

School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) votes. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The board actually voted to delay the construction of one school building, in Leesburg. DeKenipp wanted to remove ES-24, planned in Leesburg’s Tuscarora Crossing development, completely from the CIP, but he didn’t get the support. Instead, the board decided to push back funding the school two years to fiscal year 2024. With that schedule, it would open in fall of 2026. “There’s definitely a need for a school but just not in the timeline that’s currently being proposed,” said Hornberger.

DeKenipp also wanted nix a $2.1 million request to install an artificial turf field and resurface the track at Freedom High School in 2019. He didn’t mention Briar Woods, which is also slated to get an artificial turf field and a resurfaced track that year.

“Seeing this long list of capital needs, I view this budget item as a nice-to-have, not a need,” he said. Acknowledging that Freedom and Briar Woods are the last two high schools to have grass field stadiums, he added, “Well, at the end of the day, life isn’t fair.”

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) joined him in the final vote. She said she supports all of the high schools having synthetic turf—noting that it saves money in the long run—but she wants to wait for the results of a federal study that is supposed to determine whether the crumb rubber used in the synthetic turf fields is a health risk.

The board majority voted to keep the turf projects in the CIP. Morse said the study on crumb rubber was supposed to come out months ago, and there’s no telling when it will be done. “If anyone has worked with a federal agency and held them to a timeline, good on you,” said Morse, whose district includes Freedom High School. “This is a matter of equity. We’re down to the last two fields. Let’s get it done.”

In the board’s adopted Capital Asset Preservation Program, which is reserved for lower cost projects like building up-keep and maintenance, Debbie Rose (Algonkian) fulfilled a promise to Meadlowland Elementary School, which sits in her district. Parents and teachers from the 38-year-old school have spoken at School Board meetings about a need for new windows—the current ones cannot be opened without a special key, which the school system doesn’t have—and other improvements.

Every board member, except DeKenipp, backed Rose’s motion to reallocate almost $400,000 from two parking lot resurfacing projects to replace Meadowland’s windows in 2019. They also agreed to earmark $155,000 in fiscal year 2020 to install sinks, coat hooks and storage shelves in the classrooms.

The School Board is scheduled to present their adopted Capital Improvement Program to the county Board of Supervisors in February.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
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