With boxes, filing cabinets and stacks of books creating aisles, the hallways of the North Street Office look like a “warehouse,” as described by School Board member John Andrews (Broad Run) at the Aug. 12 board meeting.
After giving the description, Andrews said he would not support a bid award for constructing a new Public Schools Administration Building.
"I didn't vote in favor of bypassing the voters to build the building, but my primary reason for voting 'no' is that I don't believe the school is using the potential of the building," Andrews said.
Andrews, along with Warren Geurin (Sterling), voted against the $21.4 million bid, saying they did not want to fund the project through the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA), a state agency that sells bonds to public schools and governing bodies after approval from the Board of Supervisors of the jurisdiction. In September 2001, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $26.095 million bond to acquire and prepare a site for the Administration Building and to cover construction costs.
“No one argues we need a new administration building. I favor a new administration building. I favor moving out of Leesburg. But I don’t favor spending that kind of money without voter approval,” Geurin said.
Andrews wanted the public schools to sublet some of the space in the building until it is at capacity in a projected 10 to 12 years. "They had an opportunity to sublet portions of the building to the county government, which would then provide for taxpayer savings by deferring the county needing to sublet private sector space or having to build their own building," Andrews said. "I tried to bring business sense ... to the public sector to save taxpayer money, but I just couldn't get the picture across."
The board voted 6-2-1 with Geary Higgins (Catoctin) absent to award the bid to Costello Construction of Maryland, Inc., the lowest of eight bidders for the project. The company proposed a bid of $23.2 million, $467,000 less than the second lowest bidder but more than the funds the county allocated for the project. School staff renegotiated the contract down to $21.435 million through the "value engineering" process, eliminating items from the bid specs to lower the cost as allowed under state code.
The contract will cover the cost of building a five-story, 166,000-square-foot building on a 14.7-acre site in the Broadlands subdivision, which is located in the geographic center of the county near the Dulles Greenway and Route 659.
OTHER BOARD members were eager to support the bid.
“This was something I’ve been waiting for a long time,” said board chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles), adding that building any type of administration building is not popular with the general public and that the project has produced “a lot of debate.” “We’re going to allow professionals who run this school system to work in a professional space,” he said.
Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run) agreed. “We have asked central staff to operate far too long in spaces that are not adequate … and not comfortable,” she said, adding that the School Board gave first priority to building new schools and renovating existing schools, thereby delaying the project several times. “That meant some difficulty and hardships for our staff.”
“This is not a School Board voting itself a building,” said Robert DuPree (Dulles) about the board’s using the building for bi-monthly board meetings and for committee meetings. “This is a building … for a school system that is exploding. It’s hard to manage a growing school system when you have people in the hallways. The school system — if we’re going to deal with the issues we need to deal with — needs to operate efficiently.”
Costello Construction is scheduled to begin construction on Oct. 1 and to complete the project in January 2005. At that time, staff from the North Street Office, the Douglass Support Facility, the Staff Training Center and the Media Services Building will be relocated to the new facility, which will include space for the entire administration staff, several conference rooms and a boardroom. The transportation and maintenance staff will remain at a combined county and schools transportation facility in Leesburg.
“I’ll miss the old building,” said Cathy Grimes, secretary for the public information office. “I love the history of the building. I love the character of the building, but the bad points are, we’re very crowded. We have very little storage space. … We’ve totally outgrown this building.”
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the School Board:
* Agreed to eliminate a disparity in retiree health insurance benefits between employees of the county government and of the public schools. In 1993, the School Board updated the retirement benefit policy to include monthly contributions toward health insurance costs that are based on the retiring employees’ plan type and years of service with the public schools. Since then, the School Board increased the benefits twice, but not enough to be in line with the county government’s contribution.
The amount of the disparity is $375,000 for fiscal year 2004, with the average payment at $951. There are 197 employees that have retired in the last four years.
“For me, its come down to an issue of fairness,” Andrews said. “By working and staying in Loudoun County, you get the benefit.”
Cassell said, “We appreciated your efforts. This is a tangible way to show our appreciation.”
* Heard a report on the status of new hires from Matthew Britt, assistant superintendent of personnel services. As of that day, the public schools hired 440 teachers with 32.6 vacancies and is interviewing for several open positions except for 11 open positions in special education, since there has not been any applicants.
The public schools hired 205 classified staff and as of that day had 75.5 vacancies to fill.
“We’re in very good shape for the school year,” Britt said.
* Heard a report on Advanced Placement (AP) test scores, given by Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of schools. In spring 2003, Advanced Placement students took 3,032 tests and received a score of 3 and higher on 1,719 of those tests. In 2000, the students took 769 tests with 531 of the tests receiving a score of 3 and higher. The public schools began paying for the tests last year to give students taking AP classes a chance to earn college credit for high scores.
“The thing we’ve been looking for is to get participation up,” said Wayde Byard, school press officer, adding that 100 percent of students taking AP classes now are taking the tests.