By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Warren County officials defended a move to spend money to study two sites for a new middle school.
The Board of Supervisors at its meeting this week approved a request from the Warren County School Board to appropriate $102,085 from the historic tax credits fund to conduct phase I of the new middle school design project. Almost $800,000 remains in the tax credits fund, according to County Administrator Douglas Stanley.
Phase I involves the assessment and evaluation of two potential sites for a middle school: the land locally known as the "Environmental Study Area" off Va. 55 East (John Marshall Highway), and the Strother/Ramsey property at the north end of the proposed Leach Run Parkway near Happy Creek. The analysis will look at current zoning, access, availability and cost of utilities and excavation, to get a site development for each property. School officials broke down the cost of the study as follows: $45,050 and $42,635 to assess each site and then $14,400 to perform a traffic analysis of the preferred location.
Upon completion of the study the school board plans to select a site and request funding for the design of the facility, Stanley explained.
Both sites lie in Supervisor Tony Carter's district.
"I don't like spending a lot of money for different studies, but until we have the pros and cons of each area, it would be difficult for us to make an informed decision," Carter said Wednesday. "I may have a preference for one site over the other but, without that study saying this is the best site, we may wind up costing more money.
"What it gets down to you know is what it's gonna take for site prep, what it's gonna take to run utilities, what it's gonna be for other factors as well," Carter said. "Once they determine what they think is the best site that's when they'll look at the impact that traffic may have."
Carter's fellow board members agreed. Supervisor Richard H. Traczyk told the board at the meeting that he had heard people express doubts the school board would build a facility on the ESA site and they should spend the money on the other property.
"My way of thinking is we don't know what the best site's gonna be and, believe me, I don't like spending that money toward that, but if you get in there and find out, I mean, I may have a preference right now but once the final costs come in and we find it's gonna be too expensive to do it there and you're better off moving it to the other site," Traczyk said.
Stanley noted that the county owns the ESA site while the EDA has approximately $1 million invested in the Strother/Ramsey property. The county should look at both sites, especially when the EDA property may require spending money to acquire it, Stanley said.
Traczyk also asked which board would select the site.
"I think in all these projects we've been working in partnership with the board of supervisors," said Superintendent Pam McInnis. "It is ultimately the school board's job to choose the site but I can't imagine that, in the working relationship that we have, that the school board would do that without input from the board of supervisors."
McInnis told the board she expects school officials would take the preferred site to the supervisors's building committee. The firm chosen to perform the site study also will serve as the project architect, according to McInnis. School officials estimate the architect's fees in phase II of the project to cost $2.45 million.
Aside from following the capital improvements plan devised eight years ago, which calls for the school project, Stanley said the timing of the study works out as the county pays off loans for previous projects by 2016. By that point, the Dominion power plant should come online and the local debt paid down.
"The board has been very diligent in its financial planning and its capital improvements planning and you guys know what you're doing and the school board has understood that as they've waited for us to move this project along and understood why we had to hold off for a few years," Stanley said.
The school board has owned the ESA site for more than 30 years and more than a decade ago eyed for a new high school and elementary school. The Economic Development Authority owns the Strother/Ramsey property, a portion on which the county plans to build the Leach Run Parkway. The EDA also plans to use other parts of the Strother/Ramsey property for commercial development.