City Hall Expansion, School Renovations Debated

City Hall Expansion, School Renovations Debated

City Council grapples with spending current and future bond money.

Questions about how the Fairfax City will spend its bond money dominated the discussion at Tuesday's City Council meeting and work session.

Council members briefly grappled with concerns regarding the proposed City Hall expansion and construction of a police station on the City Hall campus during the council comments portion of the meeting. Council member Joan Cross urged the council to take another look at the proposal. Her comments came in response to a recent town meeting where several citizens expressed their dismay over the project. The citizens feared the project was too costly and too big.

"My concerns have only increased since time has passed," Cross said.

Fairfax Mayor Rob Lederer replied that since that town meeting on March 24, he had talked "offline" with Fairfax City manager Bob Sisson, assistant city manager Vivian Baltz and city police chief Rick Rappoport regarding citizen concerns. The discussions led to a recommendation, endorsed by council, to examine the feasibility of keeping the police station at the John C. Wood Center site. Lederer said this option would be part of an ongoing review process, with a possible future work session on the project.

"Maybe what I recommend we do ... if you have any specific comments ... to funnel them through," Lederer said.

THE COUNCIL also expressed concerns about the financing of the proposed renovations of Lanier Middle School and Fairfax High School during Tuesday's work session. Although the bond referendum that would fund the two renovations wouldn't come up until 2004, council members thought the project could be a hard sell if voters perceived that school capacity would quickly reach its limit. With the aid of Fairfax County Public Schools staff, the Fairfax City School Board had made designs for Lanier Middle using a proposed capacity of 1,125 students. The current capacity of the school is around 1,000.

The school capacity question came after Fairfax County Public Schools last fall proposed a gifted and talented center to be located at Providence Elementary School. However, the proposal was taken away after concerns spread that the newly-constructed school wouldn't have enough room for the program.

"The perception is that they're at capacity," said council member Scott Silverthorne, referring to Providence and Daniels Run Elementary schools. "It does seem to me, from a political perspective, we're walking into a very delicate situation."

School board member Allen Griffith replied that determining school facility size to school capacity is a hard balancing act. If they build a school too big to anticipate a growth spurt, they'll also be criticized.

"It's a dilemma," Griffith said.

Lederer suggested the city staff and the School Board work together on the determining the financing for the project, after several council members said they needed to be sure of the costs of the project before they present it to voters. The questions would include looking at what the city could do if the bond failed to pass, ensuring reasonable architectural estimates through an auditor and seeing what could be done with less money.

If the plans presented by the School Board for renovations do not change, the probable bond cost for Lanier Middle School would be $27,276,806. For Fairfax High School, the bond cost would be $52,829,770. Both figures take inflation into account, include construction costs as well as miscellaneous costs or "soft costs" such as design fees, bond costs, new electric service and technology costs.