The county school system may need to accelerate several building projects to stay ahead of enrollment growth.
That’s at the forefront of school leaders’ minds as they begin to set priorities for the schools’ capital needs over the next six years. This month, the School Board will work on the division’s Capital Improvement Program that will serve as a road map for building and other capital projects from 2019 to 2024.
Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent of Support Services, presented his department’s recommendations for which projects should make the cut for that six-year plan during a meeting last week. With enrollment expected to grow by more than 9,500 students to 90,768 countywide by 2024, Lewis’ team is recommending five school buildings and one classroom addition be accelerated.
Among those are 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.
They’re recommending a three-classroom addition at Dominion Trail Elementary to make room for full-day kindergarten. They’re aiming for that to be funded in fiscal year 2020—moved up one year from last year’s CIP—and be ready for students in 2021. A classroom addition is also slated to be built at Steuart Weller Elementary that same year to make room for full-day kindergarten.
Lewis’ staff wants to fast-track the land purchase and construction of Dulles North middle school MS-14 to have it ready for students by fall of 2026—four years earlier than initially recommended. Also on the list to be accelerated is land purchases for Dulles North elementary school ES-34 and Dulles North high school HS-14 be funded in fiscal year 2023.
“You’ll notice a pattern there,” Lewis said. “All those are in the Dulles North area… recognizing the growth is still happening in Dulles North.”
Dulles North is a planning area that includes neighborhoods north of Rt. 50, east of Goose Creek, south of the Dulles Greenway and west of Rt. 28.
In addition to ES-23 and ES-29, the recommendation for the first year of the CIP, fiscal year 2019, is for: $2.1 million for artificial turf and track resurfacing at Briar Woods High School; $64.9 million for the renovation of C.S. Monroe Technology Center to convert it to serve as the new location of the county’s alternative school; $11.5 million for division-wide security improvements; $2.1 million for artificial turf and track resurfacing at Freedom High School; $125.5 million for construction of Lightridge High School, to open in fall of 2020; and about $6 million for new school buses.
The recommendation for fiscal year 2020 is to fund just three projects: a wastewater treatment facility in Lucketts at $3.9 million and classroom additions at Dominion Trail and Steuart Weller for $2.9 million.
For the following year, fiscal year 2021, the staff is suggesting about $50 million worth of projects be funded. The big-ticket items for that year would be classroom additions at four elementary schools to make room for full-day kindergarten at $12.4 million, Round Hill Center renovations for $13.5 million, and staff training center renovations for $12.1 million.
Lewis said, in the long run, the county saves money on each project it advances because construction costs are continually rising.
“Construction costs are going up and we’re seeing that across the nation,” Lewis said. Because of that, his staff is projecting an annual inflation rate of 4.5 percent for the next six years. Plus, they have to account for Mid-Atlantic construction costs that are generally 15 to 20 percent higher than the national average. “That’s because of the high demand for construction services,” Lewis said.
He also noted that in the early ’90s, it cost about $50 per square foot to build a school, and that is now close to $300 per square foot.
“That’s a sign of the market. The market is improving,” Lewis said, “but we just know that puts increased pressure on our projects for every one that we bid.”
The School Board will hold public hearings and work sessions on the Capital Improvement Program Thursday, Nov. 9 and Monday, Nov. 20. The meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. and are held at the school administration building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn. The board is scheduled to adopt a final CIP Nov. 28.