School leaders delivered a clear message to the county Board of Supervisors last night: more schools need to be funded and built faster to keep up with enrollment growth.
The School Board presented its lengthy list of construction needs over the next several years to the supervisors, who sets the county’s tax rate and determines how much county money to set aside for public schools.
The School Board’s Capital Improvement Program, which serves as a road map for building and other capital projects from 2019 to 2024, predicts the school system will grow by 9,500 students over the next six years. To accommodate 90,768 students countywide, board members say they need more school buildings funded, built and opened earlier than initially planned.
They are asking to advance construction of a middle school in the Dulles North planning area, referred to for now as MS-14, by five years to open in 2025. They said there is also a need to advance two elementary schools’ construction: Dulles North elementary school ES-23, which they want to accelerate one year to be funded in fiscal year 2019 and opened in fall of 2021; and Dulles South elementary school ES-29, which they want to advance two years to also open in 2021.
“You’ll see a lot of Dulles showing up—Dulles North and Dulles South,” Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis told supervisors, referring to planning zones at the southern end of the county. “That area is still growing.”
The School Board also wants 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.
School leaders also hope to get funding to move a $16.4 million project up in the timeline by three years. 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.
In all, the School Board is requesting $574 million for capital projects from fiscal year 2019 to 2024. The trouble is covering the cost of all of the projects the schools and the county want to build earlier in that timeline. Under current guidelines, the county can borrow no more than $225 million per year for capital projects.
“As you know, we’re at our debt limits, so when things move up something has to move back,” said Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “Did you push any projects back?”
The School Board has given the green light to delay ES-24, an elementary school planned in Leesburg’s Tuscarora Crossing development, by two years. Under that schedule, it would open 2026.
“Our debt cap is $225 (million) every year,” Buona added, “so we still have to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
Lewis also unveiled a design for what he called a metro-style, or urban-style, school buildings. As Loudoun’s Metro stations and nearby urban-style neighborhoods come on line, public schools will need to be built on smaller campuses. Lewis showed supervisors an elementary school design that could be a two-story building serving 300-400 students, a three-story building for 600-800 students, or a four-story building housing 900-1,200 students.
The campuses for these schools can be designed to be flexible to accommodate the neighborhood. For example, a school that’s built near a county park could maybe go without a running track or baseball diamond, or a school built near a parking garage for a nearby housing complex could go with a smaller parking lot on campus.
“So we tried to modularize the design as much as possible,” Lewis said. He noted that these urban-style schools would function better with fewer students that typically attend a Loudoun public school. “The trick is making an even smaller and smaller footprint to accommodate the site constraints.”
County leaders will incorporate the schools’ needs as they set priorities all of the county’s capital needs over the next several years. Supervisors are scheduled to work on the overall county Capital Improvement Program in March.