By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County will borrow $4.5 million to renovate the historic courthouse and turn the old Edinburg School into a community center and educational facility for special-needs students.
The Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve an initial resolution authorizing the sale of a bond for up to $4.5 million for the two projects. The board included the item as a last-minute addition to its meeting agenda. However, as County Administrator Douglas Walker explained, supervisors need to hold another public hearing Oct. 23 on matters related to the project.
Action by the supervisors on Oct. 23 remains crucial as the Virginia Resources Authority plans to take the county's request to the bond market later that week, Walker has said.
Supervisor Richard "Dick" Neese cast the vote against the motion.
"I think it's a wonderful project," Neese said. "I just think the timing is not very encouraging. I'm not convinced the economy is turning around and I'm not going to vote in favor of this."
The county proposes to lease all or part of the Edinburg School to the United Methodist Family Services Charterhouse School for special-needs students. The Parks and Recreation Department and the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging would also use part of the renovated facility.
Supervisors held public hearings on the proposed appropriation-backed debt financing to provide funds to renovate and equip the Edinburg School, located at 508 Piccadilly St., Edinburg, and on the lease agreement. All but one person who spoke at the hearings expressed support for the project.
The board heard from bond counsel Courtney E. Rogers of Davenport & Company, who spoke about the difference between moral and general obligation bonds. Rogers told the board that the rate would be slightly higher with a general obligation bond.
Support for the project came from Barbara Adamson, president of the Shenandoah County Historical Society, who lauded the supervisors' efforts to restore and preserve historic sites in the locality.
Saumsville resident Marc Jaccard, who has children in the school system, said he has worked with special-needs students for several decades.
"I think it's good for a segment of the population of our students and I think whenever something's good for a segment of the population it's good for all the students, and I think that's an important step" Jaccard said. "And I think it's very, very helpful not to have to be transporting the kids and I do believe we do have some kids who will not have to be transported and I think that's a very valuable step."
Woodstock resident Cindy Bailey spoke against the project, expressing concerns with the cost and proximity of the school to a community center open to the public. Bailey said a group of county officials and others participated in a tour of Community Christian School of the Shenandoah Valley, a recently closed educational facility near town. Bailey noted she would like to hear the results of that tour and whether the county was considering using the former school.
School Superintendent B. Keith Rowland recalled efforts on the project began in 2010, but it took preparation before he could bring the idea to the School Board and supervisors.
"We believe we have the best of all worlds because we have the expertise of Charterhouse and also the expertise of Commonwealth Autism," Rowland said. "So I'm not going to apologize for doing my job. My job is to provide for the best educational opportunities for my students and I think we have done this."
Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli said, "We welcome what you're bringing to our students and the reality of having our students not only learn in our school system but be capable out in the real world when they graduate from this program."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org