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Votes

Two Schools at Once

School Board member Warren Geurin won't borrow money for a car he needs in three or four years, nor does he want the district to ask voters to do the same thing when it comes to bond funds for two high schools.

"This is not about boundaries. This is about [$53] million," said Geurin (Sterling) before the board voted to request $128.38 million in general obligation bonds.

School Board members debated whether or not to include both schools in the request, voting down three amendments before taking a vote on the main motion. The motion requests the Board of Supervisors order a special election or apply for Virginia Public School Authority Financing for the bonds.

The request covers funding for building two high schools in South Riding and Brambleton, each estimated to cost $53.6 million; renovating the Broad Run High School gymnasium for $16.7 million; and renovating the Hamilton Elementary School gymnasium for $4.3 million. The projects are listed in the first year of the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2003-08.

"There is no requirement for us to build one school or another or both," said Sam Adamo, director of planning and legislative services for the Public Schools. "What the authorization allows us to do is to begin the planning and construction [process]. ... The county sells the bonds as the money is required."

GEURIN ASKED the School Board to consider his amendment, which would eliminate South Riding, or high school 2, from the request and reduce the bond amount to $74.7 million. "We don't need to build and open two high schools in one year," he said, adding that he does not subscribe to the philosophy of "Build it and they will come."

"Build when you need to," Geurin said. "We have built trust from our voters because we show them a real need. High school 2 is not based upon need."

School Board member Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge) followed with an amendment to eliminate Brambleton, or high school 4, instead of South Riding. John Andrews (Broad Run) amended the amendment to allow the School Board to choose to fund one of the schools, both scheduled to open in 2005-06 with a capacity of 1,600 students according to the CIP.

"I agree we only need one high school. We're in the process of looking at our future needs right now," Andrews said. "I believe the growth is going to continue to decrease this year. ... The economy isn't as rosy as it was two years ago. We ought to be prudent in our planning."

Geary Higgins (Catoctin) agreed, stating that the numbers do not support building the two high schools. "We can do the fiscally and numerically responsible thing when we decide," he said.

South Riding is expected to serve 494 students and Brambleton 764 students the year they open if a senior class is excluded from both schools, according to current projections provided by Adamo at the meeting. By the third year of operation during the 2007-08 school year, South Riding's student population is expected to increase to 1,023 students and Brambleton's to 1,520 students, Adamo said.

Andrews said he wants to wait for census figures to verify Adamo's numbers. "I think it's an either/or, but we definitely don't need both," he said.

FOR SCHOOL BOARD member Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer), the county's level of growth merits building both schools in the same year. Loudoun is now the second fastest growing county in the nation, he said. "It's the right time to do this," he said. "The bigger issue is these two high schools don't affect the operating budget until '06. It's the least expensive time to do this. Construction costs are down."

Adamo said the two sites for the schools will be available next spring. "We see no problems with either site," he said, later stating in a separate interview, "If we can bid this in a good market, we would be crazy not to build from a cost and inflation perspective."

The social perspective was a concern for School Board member Candyce Cassell, since building both schools would give the School Board more flexibility in setting new school boundaries. "It's a tremendous opportunity to build some flexibility and serve an area of the county that has no high school," she said.

Holsinger agreed. "We're going to need these two schools," he said. "If we build one school and not both, a lot of children will be bounced around. ... That's one of the things that motivates me. It's not a matter of being a spendthrift. It's a matter of making responsible choices."

Andrews countered, "I have a concern about $104 million for two high schools when you can't show a need for two high schools."

"I'm not going to build a school before we need one," said School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles).

The base motion passed 5-4 with Andrews, Geurin, Higgins and Vogric voting against.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

• The School Board approved authorizing the purchase of a 15.4-acre site to build a new elementary school in the Ashburn area. The board plans to purchase a site in the Belmont Greene subdivision for $1.54 million.

The district began negotiations on the property, which is owned by Belmont Greene and Belmont Greene Land, about two years ago while considering other sites. "When we go through a search, we are looking at more than one piece of land," Adamo said.

Construction on the school, located near Belmont Ridge Road and Portsmouth Boulevard, is scheduled to begin next spring or early summer with the school opening in fall 2004. The opening of the school will affect the attendance areas for Cedar Lane, Sanders Corner and Seldens Landing elementary schools and possibly other schools.

The School Board plans to rezone the property from office and commercial space to residential zoning with allowance for school use. Adamo estimates the rezoning process will take 12 to 15 months.

The School Board approved the purchase 8-1 with Andrews voting against. Andrews gave a "no comment" response.

• Andrews said he asked the Curriculum and Instruction Committee to look into year-round schooling based on a European calendar with six weeks of vacation in the summer and the remaining time off spread throughout the school year.

• Superintendent Edgar Hatrick announced Claire Scholz will serve another two-year term as president of the Loudoun Education Association.