Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
I hope everyone is drying out after the wet week. Besides some record rainfall, in City business we cast some momentous votes this week: 1) we unanimously approved the Schools’ contract with the new GMHS builder and 2) there was a vote on the Library expansion/renovation project. The latter was a 6-1 vote, with mine being the only dissenting vote, so the project does proceed. I encourage you to read on so you can understand my vote.
Anyone notice these updates are a little early this week? With a new high school design and the library being such a beloved, key part of our community, both are significant investments in the City and should have a lot of public input – especially from families with children. We represent a large majority of library patrons and we also have students (rising 6th graders and below) who will attend a new GMHS for their entire high school experience. So while it is the dog days of summer, don’t miss out on opportunities to stay tuned into both projects and provide your thoughts. With some newly scheduled meetings for next week and later in August, I wanted to provide as early notice on your calendars as possible.
City Council meetings resume August 6th and 13th when the key topics will be a proposed update to the affordable housing policy and Founders Row. A final vote on Founders Row is still planned for August 13th. As always, I’d love to hear from you about any of these topics and you can also email all of us on City Council. Your comments and questions continue to be valuable, so keep them coming.
What Happened This Week (highlights from City Council meeting):
(1) GMHS Contract
It was a momentous night for the long-discussed project to build a new GMHS. We unanimously voted to approve the $108M construction contract with Gilbane. While the contract is between FCCPS and Gilbane, Virginia PPEA law requires that the City Council also approve. Last week, I linked to the flyover video and pdfs of the design (check them out if you haven’t already). This week, we spent most of the time discussing the details of the contract given our role as the financial stewards of the City. Some highlights:
- As currently planned, a new GMHS would be move-in ready for students and staff 6 months earlier than the original schedule, ie Winter 2020/2021. While Gilbane would not be penalized if they don’t finish early, if the schedule is met- besides the fact that more students get to attend the school earlier, it also means that the demolition of the current GMHS can happen earlier and economic development on the former footprint can proceed earlier as well – which is important to generate revenue for the City.
- If we have to terminate the school construction agreement with Gilbane between now and next spring (before the second of the 3 bond tranches is issued) – for example, if we don’t have a satisfactory deal for the 10 acre development – there is a cap of $6.5M on the amount we’d owe Gilbane. We would only pay for the work done and no damages, lost profits, etc. While we hope that would not happen, the $6.5M cap is intentionally the same as the first bond amount issued last month. This dependency – that the city would not take out further bonds / be on the hook for the cost of a new school until the 10 acre economic development deal is satisfactory and inked – has been a key part of the risk mitigation for taking on the extraordinary $120M school cost.
Over the next few months, the design will be refined with community input. If you are interested in joining a specific subcommittee on various parts of theschool design, sign up here. Also, pay attention to these meetings. The design will be finalized in October; construction permits will be requested next March; next June – right after the school year wraps up, the groundbreaking for the new GMHS is planned and construction to begin immediately.
- Next Sunday – August 5th – 2:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
Full Design Presentation Gilbane Construction, Stantec, and Quinn Evans Architects
Community reaction, and comments
- September 6th – 7:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
Update of the August 5th meeting incorporating internal and community recommendations received.
Subcommittee Breakout Sessions in classrooms.
Report out will follow.
- September 23 – 2:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
Midpoint meeting for General Public. Update of prior meetings
Subcommittee Breakout Sessions in classrooms.
Update on the City Economic Development RFDP
- September 26 – 7:00 p.m. – Joint PTA/PTSA Meeting – George Mason High School
Midpoint Meeting – Duplicate of Sept 23rd meeting (no Subcommittee breakout sessions)
Questions & Answers
- TBD: Mid-October – 7:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
Architect review of all design changes and enhancements
(2) Library Project
As a quick refresher, the library project referendum was approved for $8.7M in 2016. The current design calls for renovation of the existing library and a 6K square feet expansion on the Virginia Ave side (currently the library is approximately18K square feet total). The request to Council was a vote to approve a $195K contract for Centennial Contractors to provide “pre-construction services.” During this next phase, the design would be finalized and a guaranteed maximum price would be reached, then construction would start around a similar timeframe as GMHS – from Fall 2019- Fall 2020. If you missed my blog post last week, the Library Board is recommending to proceed with the option of closing the library for the renovation and relocating limited services elsewhere in the city, which will shorten the construction process from the original timeline of 2 years to 1 year and also reduces cost.
There were 2 major design decisions discussed with us this week, along with the Library Board’s recommendation.
- Relocation of entrance from Virginia Ave to either the corner of Park and Virginia (Board’s recommendation) or to Park Ave, facing Cherry Hill Park.
- Expansion and relocation of the children’s area to the downstairs/basement floor (Board’s recommendation) or keep on the first/main floor.
The consolidated drawing with both of the Board’s recommendations is below; see drawings of all the design options here.
Let’s start with the easier points of discussion. I like the design of the corner entrance option, provided that sidewalk width and accessibility are addressed. That is the recommendation from the Library Board and also the perspective from the majority of Council, so my sense is that the accessibility and design issues will be further worked with the goal of putting the entrance at the corner. My two concerns, which was the basis of my no vote, centered around two other areas:
- One bidder – Centennial Contractors was the only bidder. While there were 4 firms who were pre-qualified to bid and received the RFP, only Centennial bid on the project. I raised this concern at last week’s work session; this week, I asked follow up questions. It was further clarified to me that Centennial would also be the firm doing the construction of the project if agreement on the guaranteed maximum price was reached. While having one bidder for the pre-construction work of $195K could raise some eyebrows, I am just not comfortable having one bidder on a $8M project, despite the good references and experience that Centennial brings.
- Location of Children’s Library – after hearing from other families with young children who use the library frequently, I believe a move of the children’s area downstairs represents a major change that needs more community input. The concerns I’ve heard center around accessibility – children in strollers, toddlers who can’t yet manage stairs, elevator queues, etc especially during busy times like story times. There also is a concern around the lack of natural light downstairs. That said, I also understand the reasons for a move downstairs. Advocates argue that there would be more space, the natural light concern can be overcome by design, and there is a belief that it could be safer for kids. And for the adult patrons who currently use the library downstairs, the noise issue caused by little ones upstairs would be eliminated. Bottom line, I am open to the idea of moving the children’s library downstairs, provided there is ample community input and understanding of the pros and cons of the options. As it stands, I don’t believe there is widespread understanding in the community yet, especially during the summer months.
So the good news – just scheduled today are two public info sessions for next week (listed as Facebook events):
If you can’t attend those, you can also stop by next Saturday, August 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Farmers Market.
(3) Misc – we had a number of consent items on our agenda this week. Of note among the consent items is an application for more funding for the S. Washington project. I know everyone is aware of the undergrounding and work underway on S. Washington/Lee Hwy, or at least have been impacted by the bumpy roads, which is a part of a larger streetscape and multimodal transit plaza project. Like many other capital projects, the costs have increased on this project, so we endorsed an application to apply for more grant funds.
What’s Coming Up:
- Tomorrow, July 27 – Campus Coordinating Committee meeting (730 am, School Board Offices)
- Wednesday, August 1 – Library Renovation Update (7 pm, Library)
- Thursday, August 2 – Library Renovation Update (930 am, Library)
- Sunday, August 5 – Sunday Series Town Hall (2 pm, GMHS Auditorium)
- Monday, August 6 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center Senior Center)
- Monday, August 13 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, Community Center Senior Center)
- Tuesday, September 4 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center)
- Thursday, September 6 – GMHS Update & Sub-Committees (7 pm, GMHS)
Later in September:
- Sunday, September 23 – Sunday Series Town Hall (2 pm, GMHS Auditorium) or Wed, Sept 26 – Joint PTA meeting (same topics as 9/23)
- TBD – mid October – final GMHS design meeting