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Letter: Thoughts on the middle school conundrum

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Since only last month, the School Board has presented two proposals for a new Center District Middle School: the first for a $55 million consolidated middle school, and, when pressed about costs, a second proposal that would reduce the cost to $43.3 million. Forty three million dollars remains an awful lot of money for Fauquier taxpayers to shoulder.

Mixed in with the discussion around the second proposal has been the suggestion to change the Board of Supervisors’ policy that puts any amount over $25 million to a voter referendum. Given the large amount and the long term nature of such a commitment, taxpayers should have the chance to vote. The Board of Supervisors should not change their policy.

At $43.3 million there continues the real risk that the financial burden will eclipse other needed County capital improvements that will arise in coming years. Expansions to schools elsewhere in the County come to mind, perhaps occasioned by the Mintbrook and Brookside developments.

It is time to rethink the Middle School Conundrum.

In August, 2015, RRMM Architects produced proposals to renovate and expand Warrenton and Taylor Middle Schools. If the County renovated and expanded Warrenton Middle School, as an example, the result would be a school for 650 students at a cost (using 3% inflation, as did RRMM) of $26.7 million by January, 2020.

Currently, both Taylor and Warrenton Middle Schools are below their 95% capacities and the projected middle school enrollment numbers for 2024-25 show no growth. With a projected combined enrollment in 2024-25 of 829 students, a 650 renovated school would mean that roughly 179 students would need to be served elsewhere in the County by that time. That number of students could be accommodated by shifting those graduating from 5th grade to other Middle Schools in the County over a number of years. During this time period, Taylor Middle School could be phased out of use.

The potential savings from the most recent School Board proposal amounts to $16.6 million. That is significant, especially considering what taxpayers would have to pay to borrow that amount at the current AAA municipal bond interest rate of around 4% over 30 years’ time. It would increase the likelihood of taxpayer acceptance on a voter referendum and allow just that much more wiggle room for other capital project imperatives.

This option is worth considering.

Thomas H. Valk, M.D., Chair, Fauquier Taxpayers Association

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