Proposed $9.3 million school expenditure back on county’s capital improvements list

Madison White Franks

by Madison White Franks

LANCASTER—A $9.3 million expenditure for new schools is back on Lancaster County’s proposed capital improvement plan (CIP) for fiscal year 2019.

A public hearing on the five-year CIP budget totaling $71,316,083 will be held at 7 p.m. August 30 at the County Administration Building, 8311 Mary Ball Road, Lancaster.

The fiscal year 2019 portion totals $10,230,083. The only items being considered at the August 30 hearing are 2019 items.

As proposed, the 2019 CIP projects include $25,000 for a school security grant matching fund, $10,500 for a jail roof repair, $190,000 for school bus replacements, $250,000 for an ambulance to serve the Upper Lancaster Volunteer Rescue Squad, $38,500 for a new sheriff’s patrol vehicle, $15,082 for sheriff’s office heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacement, $11,701 for a kitchen and storage area to serve the courthouse offices, $40,000 for paving an access road to the Windmill Point public boat ramp, $349,300 for testing, programming, and concept design for new schools and the $9.3 million request for schools.

Supervisors in July had withdrawn the request to seek more information on funding. However, following a joint meeting August 7 with the school board and VMDO Architects, supervisors decided to add the school request to the total.

District 3 supervisor Jason Bellows moved to hold a public hearing on the capital improvement plan as presented and the motion passed with support from District 2 supervisor Ernest Palin and District 5 supervisor Robert Westbrook. District 1 supervisor Jack Larson and District 4 supervisor Bill Lee were absent.

“It makes sense to go ahead and present the capital improvement plan as it was presented to the board and show that whole number. Then we can fund the things we are already going to do and then we can start the process on how we are going to fund the rest of the money,” said Bellows.

“I gather there is a little bit of confusion of what is going on and I think it’s a communication problem,” said Bob Moje of VMDO.

The plan still includes creating a centralized campus with access to Kilmarnock central water and sewer, designing a highly integrated model that shares resources between schools, designing a lifelong learning and fitness resource for all citizens, incorporating and planning for advanced technologies, and investing in quality buildings and systems, said Moje.

The original plan the school board adopted in April 2017 included building a new high school and middle school and renovating the existing middle school into a primary school, but that has changed, he said. That plan addressed land options on Harris Road and property behind the middle school in Kilmarnock, but that has now changed with the supervisor’s approval of the Goodluck Road site.

“To summarize, the original plan has evolved into one campus. We are not going to renovate the middle school,” said Westbrook.

“Our vision has never changed and our goal is not to build three new schools, our goal is to build one integrated campus that moves students through the academic process not like they are in an assembly line, but to their own needs,” said school board chairman Audrey Thomasson. “We are still on the same path.”

“We want to continue with this Goodluck Road property because it offers so much not only to the school but to this county as a whole,” she added.

She also said the county needs to move forward on getting the capital improvement budget passed so the process can continue.

One million dollars would get us to the end of the calendar year that would include conceptual and schematic design, said Moje.

“I don’t think you are really risking anything by planning the whole thing but I think it is important to have the overall full vision…it’s not uncommon that the vision is a little bit more than you can afford,” he added.

There would be a savings of an estimated $1 million by having all three schools on the same campus, said Thomasson. When Davenport & Company presented a 15-cent tax increase, the operational savings alone would bring it to approximately 10 cents.

“As we invest in the planning process, I think that will also help us communicate with the public but right now I think it’s really difficult for people to imagine what it is we are doing. Once we come up with the grand plan, people would be able to envision it,” said District 1 school board member Katherine Keith.

“That has been the missing piece. There were some different plans that were presented and so there were some misconceptions,” said Bellows.

“At the last meeting, we showed going forward with half of it and I think that may have confused things. The thinking was there wasn’t going to be the support we needed to get started so the proposal was to plan everything but to only go forward with half of it,” said Moje. “We were agreeing that the whole thing was a bridge too far, too expensive and the tax rate number was going to be too high.”

Upon further investigation, it would be better to go forward with all of it keeping in mind the integrated model, he said.

There is an opportunity for the school board and board of supervisors to work collaboratively with a sales tax resolution, said superintendent Dr. Steve Parker.

The resolution states if a locality is unable to fund a school capital project from its operational budgets, a new revenue can be generated from a school infrastructure sales tax. The locality would have to enter into a public referendum to get the community’s support of any local sales tax increase for school improvement and construction.

The sales tax increase would only be during the lifetime of the project, said Dr. Parker. The school board will be taking action on the resolution at the August school board meeting and he asked the supervisors to consider it.