Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Happy new year! I hope your 2017 is off to a good start.
City Council business resumed officially this week, with most of our meeting focused on a joint work session with the School Board on GMHS. Read on for my take on where we are, the options on the table, and next steps. In the 12+ months I’ve been directly involved, it’s the first time I’ve seen a comprehensive look at a full spectrum of options from full construction to various flavors of renovation. While I understand that everytime it rains, the GMHS roof leaks and we need to take action for our students and staff, we are striving for a balance between speed, diligence, and transparency into the process. This is a big decision with huge implications and no easy or obvious answers – so I think thoughtful decision making and community engagement are key.
Also – pre-holidays and over winter break, I was fielding questions about the tax rate and the perennial question about the value of economic development. I thought it would be useful to put my thoughts down in a dedicated FAQ blog post, with links to facts and figures. You can find that here: https://www.lettyhardi.org/faqs-about-the-tax-rate-and-economic-development/
Finally – one last call out on upcoming meetings. As traffic calming was a hot topic in 2016, we will have a work session on 1/17 to review and discuss the status of traffic calming requests in the queue or that have been petitioned directly to us. Personally, I would like to see traffic calming as a sustainably funded priority in the coming budget, so if you have thoughts – please send my way.
I look forward to hearing your questions and feedback.
What Happened This Week:
Joint Campus Work Session – presentation available online (new materials start on page 30) . My highlights:
- Most of our discussion centered on a set of 10 options the Working Group has been evaluating – ranging from a barebones “fix issues and add trailers” option, to 6 renovation + addition options, to 3 all new construction options. This may seem like a dizzying set of options (and it is), but it is in response to two key pieces of feedback and consternation with the the last process. We heard concerns about the lack of affordability of a brand new school and concerns that we arrived at an option in the PPEA without having thoroughly considered alternatives.
- One of the key questions that’s been asked is, “What can we actually afford to spend on GMHS” without changing policies, stretching debt capacity, de-prioritizing other projects in the CIP like City Hall and the Library, etc. Based on the financial analysis done – the answer is $40MM. With the 10 options on the table – only the “fix issues and add trailers” option and a new, phased option would stay under or near the $40MM.
- For those trying to understand the spectrum of options, here’s my summary attempt of the chart on page 30:
- Fix Issues + Trailers – option 1 – this option costs $20MM to remediate the roof and HVAC issue + costs for future issues and addresses capacity with the use of trailers vs construction.
- New Construction – options 5, 5A, 5B – this was primarily the path proposed in the last process, with estimated costs of $112MM (now $117MM with rising construction costs). We also considered 5A and 5B, which are variations of new construction where we would build to accommodate capacity of 1200, which would last 10-15+ years and then add on additional classroom space as needed, saving $10MM at the beginning.
- Renovation options – 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 4A – the options ranged from minimal renovations ($65MM) to gut renovation ($103MM) to demolishing half the footprint and renovating ($114MM). Without changing the footprint in options 3/3A/3B, there is no land available for commercial development, so the costs would not be offset by any future land sale/lease or positive tax revenue. Options 4 and 4A frees up half of the footprint for potential development, but costs nearly as much as new construction.
- Phased renovation & construction – option 2 – this option garnered the most attention and discussion as it enables us to sync renovation/construction costs with borrowing capacity. Specifically, the debt from the construction of MEH is paid off in 2022 and 2025 which is when the construction phases could occur. To be clear, this option ultimately costs about the same as all new construction but is more “affordable” by phasing; however, there may still have tax rate increase implications and creates more uncertainty for future economic development on the site.
- Looking ahead:
- True net costs – the cost and high level feasibility estimates were a good first pass, but I believe the options need more work and vetting. Specifically, we need to understand bottom line costs with financing and for the options that enable economic development, how does that potentially offset the construction costs – ie, do they make more expensive options more affordable in the long run?
- Economic development – yay or nay – economic development may not just be a means to an end to pay for some of GMHS – the western portion of the City is strategically important for the sustainability of the City long term, so careful consideration of if/how/when/what kind of development should occur there needs to happen so we can factor that potential into the decision-making. Small area planning, led by our in house planning team, will kickoff later in January.
- Pros and cons & community engagement – each option has pluses, minuses, and implications and we need more extensive community discussion comparing the options before we choose a path forward. For example, the phased approach seems to make sense from a financial point of view, but the most obvious disadvantage is a drawn-out construction process and multiple classes of students attending school through construction, while ensuring the end product has comparable longevity to brand new construction.
- Engage with neighbors – through the planning process, we will re-engage with the neighbors to the site – WMATA, UVA/VT, and residential neighbors. More broadly, this is a great opportunity for inter-jurisdictional cooperation with Fairfax County.
- The Working Group will continue meeting regularly (next meeting on Thurs 1/12), which continue to be open to the public.
What’s Coming Up:
- Monday, 1/9/17 – 730 pm – City Council Meeting – agenda here
- Thursday, 1/12/17 – 9 am – Campus Working Group – location TBD
- Saturday, 1/14/17 (10 am, Community Center) – Legislative Town Hall with Delegate Marcus Simon and Senator Dick Saslaw.
- Monday, 1/16/17 – Martin Luther King Jr Day – we declared MLK Jr Day as a City-wide Day of Service and the City co-sponsored march at Tinner Hill begins at 1 pm.
- Tuesday 1/17/17 – 730 pm – City Council Work Session – currently planned topics: Fairfax Water tank site, financial policies, and traffic calming.