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School Board approves three classroom expansion at Lucketts Elementary

The Lucketts Elementary School community stands in support of a three classroom addition to the school at the Oct. 24 School Board meeting. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
After a spirited, hour-long debate, the Loudoun County School Board approved a three-classroom expansion for the overcrowded Lucketts Elementary School and to request funds from the Board of Supervisors to complete the project.

First, the board discussed whether to approve the three-classroom addition. On that issue, the board voted 6-2-1 with Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian) opposed and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) absent for the vote.

The Finance and Facilities Committee, which includes boad Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles South), Vice Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and committee Chairman Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), has worked for months with LCPS staff on the best recommendation to alleviate overcrowding in Lucketts.

Staff considered options like rezoning and sending some Lucketts students to Waterford Elementary School, but ultimately told the committee they did not feel rezoning would solve the problem. The Finance and Facilities Committee unanimously voted to recommend the School Board approve the three-classroom addition and requesting money from county fund balance.

Rose said her biggest problem was with the process of considering the expansion for Lucketts, saying it should have been included in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) so the board as a whole could have discussed the need for expansion instead of having it dealt with in committee.

“My frustration is centered squarely on process in this, and I don’t think this is the right process,” Rose said. “I think this has taken a lot of what should be a discussion out of the full board out of the board and put it on an artificial timeline.”

Rose said she has been working with one of the schools in her district, Meadowland Elementary School, which is also in need of renovation and expansion. However, she told the Meadowland community to trust in the CIP process and that she would advocate for them. She feels Lucketts should have gone through the same process instead of seemingly jumping ahead through committee.

Hornberger also questioned the need for action now, but Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden said the Board of Supervisors' deadline for a fund balance request was more urgent. The Board considers requests at its first meeting in November and then approves which projects it will allocate leftover funds to later in the winter, she said.

Superintendent Eric Williams also said the Lucketts Expansion was identified by staff as a good fund balance request project because supervisors expressed interest in the project, and it was likely to be funded unlike other school system needs like new textbooks and technology.

Hornberger also questioned if a three-classroom expansion was the right fit for Lucketts’ needs and if perhaps a hybrid between extra classrooms and boundary changes would be a better fit. Parents in the Lucketts community have adamantly opposed boundary changes.

DeKenipp, who represents the Lucketts area, said shifting students around would make Lucketts another small school in Leesburg, reducing resources from a school that is already short on resources.

Lucketts does not have a dedicated art or music room, does not have enough office space for teachers and has lost the ability to offer full-day kindergarten.

Morse agreed with DeKenipp, saying a boundary change would not be the right solution because it would require the board to have a full-blown boundary hearing for this one effort and, to him, that is a huge emotional and financial burden on the school system.

“It makes me worry about trying to adjust a small school with such a small population knowing that a three-classroom solution we believe would answer all the needs, even if they consolidate the art and music room into one,” Morse said

Morse also said the committee went through and exhausted several different options before settling on a three-classroom expansion.

“Without a doubt, this becomes a capacity question, which is one of those issues that is not cosmetic. It’s not trying to make the school look pretty, it’s not bumping them up on the prioritization list,” Morse said. “It is simply identifying a capacity issue right away and the community seems perfectly willing to wait that one more year on the full day kindergarten in order to bring in the three classroom solution.”

The expansion would cost $3.1 million, which the School Board would request from supervisors. The board also voted to request an additional $2.9 million as a fund balance request to replace a nearby water treatment plant.

The three-classroom addition would not require a replacement of the plant, but since it would need to be replaced in a couple years anyway -- and also serves county facilities – LCPS staff recommended the board add this to the fund balance request. This way the plant could be replaced at the same time as the construction of the new classrooms, therefore only disturbing the school campus once.

Last year, the School Board used the fund balance request for books and technology, buses and turf fields. Buses are now fully funded in the CIP from the Board of Supervisors so buses no longer appear on the operating budget, and two turf fields were funded early through the fund balance while two were left on the CIP, Burden said.

“I was the one that advocated to buy textbooks before turf fields last year,” DeKenipp said. “The reality is I recall certain School Board members speaking before the Board of Supervisors last year advocated for year-end funds to be spent on turf fields and, folks, I’m asking for classrooms to teach kids, not turf fields. I don’t think that’s a huge ask at this point.”

The board voted unanimously to request funds from the Board of Supervisors for the three-classroom Lucketts expansion and water treatment plant replacement, with Turgeon absent.

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