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School Board Looks at Administrative Space

Consultant Could Provide Funding Alternatives

The Dunn Loring Center on Gallows Road served as an elementary school up until 1978, at which time it was decided the classroom space was no longer needed. The building now houses the Cluster I and II administrative offices and nearly 25 years later, the school system is facing a countywide deficit of 500 elementary-school classrooms, 2,600 middle-school spaces and 2,034 high-school spaces for the 2006-2007 school-year enrollment projections.

The Fairfax County Public School system utilizes space in 23 buildings — 14 of which are owned by the school system — in Fairfax, Centreville, Annandale, Lorton, Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Springfield, and Alexandria, including converted schools for administrative proposes.

Now faced with classroom shortages and aging administrative buildings, the school system is exploring alternative funding methods that could speed up the construction of new schools and possibly provide for a central administrative center not unlike the Fairfax County Government Center.

"We could sell off the buildings. They could have a different use that could be a better use for a developer," said Charles Woodruff, chief financial officer, Department of Financial Services. "We would be returning some of the buildings to the tax base. Many of the buildings are older and aren't cost effective."

<mh>Needing More Information

<bt>Last week, the school system issued a request for information (RFI) seeking firms that could review the school system's business practices and create a plan that would speed up school construction and renovations other than using bond funding. Based on the information received, the school system expects to hire a consultant later this year and begin implantation of a plan by September 2003.

The school system's staff has been looking at alternative funding with the School Board's blessing since last year. Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent, Department of General Services, said they have reached a point where it is time to call in someone with more expertise.

"It became apparent to us we don't have the expertise to even formulate a proposal," Tistadt said.

In its research, staff came to the conclusion that alternative funding methods and centralizing the offices will save money. Just how much is unknown at this point. Nor can staff provide an idea of how much a consultant could cost.

"We've been doing this as time permits and there will come a time when we need to hire a third party. And that person will stay with us to help generate community involvement," Woodruff said. "But I don't even have a ballpark figure as to cost."

Currently, the school system relies on bond money to renovate and construct schools. This past November, voters approved a $378 bond referendum. The county however, places a $130 million per year spending cap on the funds as a way of maintaining its AAA bond rating. The spending restriction forces the school system to limit the number of schools that will receive renovations at any one time and to spread the work out over several years. In addition, new construction, including planning, is also spread out over a two-year period.

"This is something we should be looking at. We have 14 parcels, some of which are potentially commercial," said School Board member Christian Braunlich (Lee). "This is something that is eight or nine years overdue."

<mh>Staying Focused

<bt>The School Board is expecting to receive some financial numbers, both savings and expense, at its audit committee meeting in the spring.

In the meantime, the general consensus on the board is to move forward with the initiative even though there is some concern the focus of the project is shifting from its original intent of creating more classroom space.

"I thought we were talking about classroom or office space. It now sounds like were talking about a centralized administration building," said School Board member Mychele Brickner (At large). "We set up a small group or committee and also discussed hiring a consultant-type person to look at cost, including rehabbing old administration buildings to make usable as schools again."

Woodruff said the consultant would look at all alternatives. Creating a centralized office, however, would save money in mile reimbursement and time lost by employees traveling from one office to another.

"It makes sense to take a look at this. There will be a need to keep the board informed as it progresses," said School Board member Robert Frye (At large). "We need to keep some of these funds available for classrooms. We do have some classroom space that is being used for administrative purposes. I'm concerned we don't veer down one path over another."