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Funding Still Falls Short

School construction bids come in over budget, also.

For the second time in two weeks, City of Fairfax leaders received some bad news about funding for proposed construction projects. Two weeks ago, the City Council found out that the lowest bid for renovating and expanding City Hall and the city police station was about $3.6 million more than budgeted.

During a work session prior to the City Council's Feb. 8 meeting, they found that the bids for the first phase of the project to renovate Lanier Middle School and Fairfax High School were about $9 million over what had been budgeted.

If that pattern continues for subsequent phases of school construction, the money will add up, said Mayor Robert Lederer. "We're really talking about a $15 million to $20 million shortfall over four buildings. I'm a little concerned about how we grapple with both these issues."

Each of the two projects — civic and school — was to be paid for through two separate bond issues, each of which has been approved by city voters.

A few options remain for how to deal with the funding shortfall. Designers have already looked at the City Hall and police station project and found about $660,000 that can be cut in ways that they say will not sacrifice quality. Other funding sources can come from transfers from other accounts and funding parts of the project directly from the city's capital budget.

But those solutions were proposed prior to the School Board’s finding out their bids were high. Lederer pointed out that while city government and schools technically have separate budgets, the money for both comes from the same place, the city taxpayer. "We're going to pay that bill," he said.

He cautioned that whatever the City Council does, it should expect the School Board to follow suit — the other body cannot be held to a different standard.

Councilmembers briefly discussed the proposed cuts and which ones it might wish to restore, if possible.

Councilmember R. Scott Silverthorne suggested perhaps the most drastic solution, not renovating City Hall. He said that he was firmly committed to renovating the police station, but questioned, "Are we still committed to moving forward on both buildings?"

The proposal was not discussed. Instead, the Council decided to take a broader look at the projects. "Because of the totality, we need to consider them together," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen. A joint City Council-School Board meeting will be scheduled in the near future. The city must act relatively quickly, the bids expire near the end of March, and if the project is re-bid, costs may come in even higher.

IN ITS WORK SESSION after the meeting, the Council received an update about the status of a rezoning application for the Higginbotham Property.

The land is just under 11 acres, located at the corner of Main Street and Judicial Drive. A stream runs through the center of the property, so the developer, Jaguar Development, proposes two separate sections. The northern portion of the site is currently developed with three 1950s-style apartment buildings with 29 units. Jaguar proposes to remove these buildings and replace them with 36 townhouses. On the southern portion, it proposes building 118 condominiums.

The Manassas Gap railroad right of way runs along the southern border of the property. The developer does not plan to save the land but does propose constructing a historical marker in the area.

According to documents provided at the meeting, the townhouses would range between 2,400 and 3,000 square feet and would start at $800,000. The condos would range from 1,000-2,000 square feet and would range in price from $350,000-$550,000 and up.

The developer must obtain a number of approvals from the city's Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review and City Council before it can proceed.

Councilmembers discussed possibilities of where to move the polling place that had been housed in the John C. Wood Center. The center is slated to be torn down as part of the police station redevelopment.

The Council narrowed its choices to Paul VI High School on Route 50, and the Mennonite Church, next to the Wood Center. A public hearing will be schedule at which both choices will be discussed.

The Council also heard a discussion of the athletic fields in the city. The school redevelopment, if it proceeds as planned, will cause the temporary loss of fields at Lanier Middle and Fairfax High School.

In order to make up the loss, Michael Cadwallader, director of Parks and Recreation, suggested several areas where new fields could be constructed. One option, the Stafford Tract, is located behind Outback Steakhouse and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That could potentially create two fields for recreational use. However, the cost of constructing them would be approximately $1 million.

In the light of the funding gap on other projects, Councilmember Jeffrey Greenfield urged caution. "Throwing $1 million on this might be something we would pause on," he said.

Cadwallader will explore putting new fields in other areas that might have a lower cost impact.