If the School Board gets it way, each Loudoun County high school will have the same turf fields to play on by the end of fiscal 2017.
The fields will be funded through $8 million added to the school systems’ Capital Improvement Program (CIP) from fiscal 2014 to 2018, which the board approved during a Jan. 8 business meeting.
The renovations were approved in increments of $2 million, or two fields per year for eight total, for fiscal 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 by a 7-2 vote.
Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) also said he wanted to involve the public in fundraising to pay for the fields.
School Board members Debbie Rose (Algonkian) and Bill Fox (Leesburg) said that they didn’t like the idea of setting aside $2 million every year without cost controls.
“We have to have that policy set in place to engage the public before I can approve $2 million,” Rose said.
Fox said a policy needed to be in place that set out guidelines for the costs for installing turf fields and called it an earmark.
“I don’t want there just to be an assumption that $2 million is going to get spent every year on turf fields,” Fox said. “In my view it looks irresponsible at this point.”
School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) said that not naming the schools allowed the School Board to decide who should receive the fields first, independent of pressure from the Board of Supervisors.
“This first approach is enabling us to get the supervisors on board before we start down the road of what is the prioritization of schools,” Morse said. “We should find out if they’ll, the Supervisors, are willing to support this initiative.”
The Joint Committee of the School Board and Board of Supervisors approved putting in the eight turf fields.
The CIP for fiscal 2014 to 2017 totals about $274.7 million. It includes funding for the construction for two new middle schools, MS-7 and MS-9; another elementary school in the Dulles North area, ES-27 and a separate building to house the Monroe Technology Center and Academy of Sciences.
By far the most expensive item, Monroe Tech would cost the county $109 million. It’s currently planned as a satellite facility for students enrolled in the Academy of Sciences in addition to Monroe students.
The CIP passed unanimously, despite the turf field debate. Also passed during the meeting was the school system’s Capital Asset Preservation Program (CAPP), which handles major maintenance and upkeep of school system buildings.
During the discussion, Morse proposed eliminating the Lincoln Elementary School HVAC units, electrical system upgrades and replacement fire alarm systems, which totaled about $310,000.
He said the school, one of the oldest in Loudoun with a population of 65 students, had costs too great to justify the upgrade.
“It dawned on me that we are beginning a phase where certain facilities where we are investing great sums of money for very limited return,” Morse said.
He said if his motion passed they would discuss “what to do” about Lincoln.
Vice Chair Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), said the proposal was ultimately about closing Lincoln to save money, calling it the “elephant in the room.”
“I don’t feel that this is an appropriate way to approach that elephant in the room,” Turgeon said. “If this is something that the board is going to consider it needs to be done rather than a back-door approach.”
She said cutting off maintenance fees was like strangling Lincoln and letting it die.
Fox said that people should be aware that the School Board might have to consider closing schools, giving the $55.9 million revenue gap expected to come from the Board of Supervisors.
“I think given the tight budget situation we’re looking at this year, board members should be on notice that this is a possible topic of conversation, and not just Lincoln but other small schools in western Loudoun as well,” Fox said.
School Board members also inquired if they might be able to turn the school back to the county or otherwise take maintaining the building off the budget.
“There may be other school uses for Lincoln,” Superintendent Edgar Hatrick said. “Purcellville is the demographic center of western Loudoun and this is just outside that.”
Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin), who has Lincoln in her district, objected to the motion.
“I don’t think any board member would appreciate this being done in his or her area,” Bergel said. “There’s nothing else in this CAPP for Lincoln Elementary.”
Morse ultimately withdrew the motion.
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