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Lanier Renovations Delayed

Once again bids are more than bonds.

For the third time in recent months, a major building project in the City of Fairfax has seen proposed construction costs come in higher than the budgeted amount.

Janice Miller, chair of the City of Fairfax School Board came to the City Council’s worksession on to deliver an update on the status of the renovation project for Lanier Middle School. "Because of the current bid market, the bids came in and they were significantly more than the available funding," Miller said.

Last November, voters had approved a bond to fund renovations of Fairfax High School and Lanier Middle School. Of the $86 million approved, $32 million was to be used for renovations of Lanier. The lowest of the two bids received by the school board was $33 million, said Miller, that amount was just for the so-called "brick and mortar" costs and does not include things like landscaping and furnishings — things that can add another 30 percent to the costs, Miller said.

"We believe the city taxpayer is not getting a good value for its dollar," Miller said. "We are looking at delaying and re-bidding the project." The renovation project had been set to start this spring and finish in 2007.

THE OTHER two projects, the renovation of Fairfax High School and the combined project of expanding City Hall and building a new police station, each had their bids come in at about 20 percent higher than the bond amount.

In those cases, the City Council and School Board made some cuts and changes to the projects, and supplemented those with funding from the city budget to make up the difference. Lanier will be the only one of the three projects to be re-bid. Miller said that this time of year is usually one of the busier times for construction projects in explaining why she thought it would be better to wait until the fall.

Miller also left open the possibility that additional funds may necessary. Miller noted the possibility of the Virginia Public School Authority as a source for some of the funding. She asked that School Board and city staff work together to identify potential sources of funding.

Mayor Robert Lederer praised the School Board for its decision to wait. "I think it would be a huge disappointment to this community if we didn’t do it first class," Lederer said.

Other bonds for the Redevelopment of Old Town Fairfax were discussed later in the worksession. A team of the city’s financial advisors came to the meeting to explain a plan that would issue the bonds for the construction of the new Fairfax City Regional Library and other downtown improvements.

The total estimated cost of this project would be about $37.5 million. "We would be better off if we went through the Economic Development Authority," said David Rose of Davenport and Company, one of the city’s financial advisors.

Typical municipal bonds issued by the City of Fairfax require voter approval in the form of a referendum, Rose explained. However, the Economic Development Authority can issue "Lease Revenue Bonds" which require no voter input. The authority can choose to hold public hearings and the council and members of the authority indicated that they are interested in doing so.

The city will put up City Hall and a city-owned property yard as collateral for the bonds. Although the dollar value of the buildings is substantially less than the amount being borrowed, the intangible value of City Hall makes it far more valuable.

The financing structure of the deal is being characterized as a win-win for the city by Lederer. Currently, the county owns the library building and the city owns the location where the new library will go. The city and county will swap the properties so that the city can redevelop the site.

Currently, the city pays the county for operating costs related to the library so that city residents can use the county facility.

The city will pay for the construction of the new building, which will ultimately be owned by the county. The money that the city would normally pay in operating costs will instead be shifted to pay for construction costs. The city, Lederer said, will not incur any additional financial obligation as a result of the structure of the deal.

ALSO DURING the worksession, the City Council got a look at the proposed look of downtown. The city’s Board of Architectural Review sat in on the meeting and saw drawings of the facades of buildings on North Street, Chain Bridge Road and University Boulevard.

The architects tried to tie their designs into other elements of Old Town Fairfax. "We took a lot of details you see around the city and we used them throughout," said Thomas Dinneny of CMSS Architects. "We added more details to make the project look more like existing structures."

The problem with the designs, said Lederer, was the roofline that he said was too regular and too tall. "The roofline adds a sense of size and density," Lederer said. "You really have a three-story building that looks like a four-story building."

The architects will begin a redesign of the project and will come back before the council again. The City Council must approve a design before the project can go forward.

During its regular business meeting, the City Council approved a request from the Book Market to use part of the currently vacant Frank’s Nursery building on Lee Highway.

The council granted an 18-month permit, although representatives from the Book Market indicated that they would not likely want to use the building for that long. As part of the approval, the Book Market will be required to remove the pylon sign in front of the building.

Carter Davis of JBG Rosenfeld was representing the property owners. He indicated that they wish to redevelop the property and simply want to allow it to generate some rent income during the process. He said that several different options for redevelopment were currently under consideration.