By Linwood Outlaw III -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Plans to build Warren County's new public safety building are moving forward after the Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to approve a conditional-use permit request for the project.
Architects hope to have the building ready in two years.
The supervisors approved a request Aug. 18 for a conditional-use permit submitted by Moseley Architects on the condition that a formal site plan be accepted by the county's Planning Department before a building permit is issued. Materials must also be compatible with the nearby Skyline High School, adjacent to the future location of the one story, 38,000-square-foot facility, which is being eyed for construction on agricultural property east of Skyline Vista Drive that spans more than 37 acres. The county wants to subdivide the property and build the facility on 13.4 acres.
Some local residents initially hoped the project would be delayed in order to avoid tax hikes during hard economic times. But, many county officials insist that a larger building for safety personnel is sorely needed. Officials also say that moving forward with the project now rather than later will allow the county to take advantage of cheaper construction costs.
The facility is part of the reason real estate taxes were raised by 1 cent when the supervisors adopted the county's $85.6 million budget for the current fiscal year. Half of the increase, which brought the rate to 46 cents per $100 of assessed value, is earmarked for renovating the former Warren County High School building on Luray Avenue into a middle school, and the other half-cent will go toward the public safety building.
Planning Commission members had asked developers if the site for the building, located off U.S. 340, would be best used as a location for a new middle school. However, Anthony J. Bell III, vice president of Moseley Architects, said the site isn't suited for a school. Virginia's public school facility guidelines recommend that 800-pupil middle schools have at least 18 usable acres, Bell said. A middle school for 900 pupils would need 19 such acres, he said.
"Even if the site was essentially flat, the middle school and its associated parking lots and bus loop would not fit on the site, nor would there be space for play fields," Bell told Planning Commission Chairman Mark Bower in a letter.
Pupils would essentially have to use the high school's fields, which could create "safety and logistical concerns," Bell said. The southwest portion of the site also contains "cave-karst formation areas" and sinkholes "making construction of a school infeasible," he added.
The $14.3 million public safety building will house Warren County's Department of Fire and Rescue and Sheriff's Office operations, including the animal control, civil process, school resource and investigations departments. The emergency communications center would also be inside the building. The Sheriff's Office will occupy 32,900 square feet of the new facility, and fire and rescue services will take up 4,260 square feet. Magistrate functions, meanwhile, will occupy 700 square feet inside the building.
Current space needs for those departments total about 27,000 square feet, but developers are constructing a 38,000-square-foot facility to meet projected needs through the year 2026, when the number of staff is anticipated to grow by 109 percent, Bell said. Officials want to begin construction on the new building by next summer and finish it by October 2011.