Updates from Letty – June 9, 2017

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

While the school year is winding down, we are ramping up the analysis and public meetings before we decide if the bond for a GMHS project will be on the November ballot. We’re about 6 weeks away from the scheduled date to make a final decision. We have upcoming meetings and opportunities to hear from the public, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to learn, ask questions, and give us your input in the coming weeks.

Specifically, we have a Town Hall tomorrow morning at 9 am at MEH where you’ll see the designs and costs for the high school and potential economic development. Remember, we’re offering free babysitting (use link to let us know) to help parents attend the meeting.

Read on my take on the GMHS options and next steps and the next round of changes from the Broad & Washington development project. Due to the length of our meeting on Monday (we went nearly 5 hours!), meeting materials and video are still being uploaded; they should be available here later today.

Have a great, “bluesy” weekend!


PS Remember – primary voting day is next Tuesday, June 13th! Polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm. Check out the sample ballots; vote411.org is also a handy way to compare candidates.


What Happened This Week:

(1) GMHS Campus Update – the feasibility study, which was presented to a joint City Council and School Board this week, will be presented to the public tomorrow at the Town Hall. It includes 3 leading options and their estimated costs. I”ll note highlights here, but I really encourage you to either attend the meetings or watch them afterwards to get the narrative that accompanies the slides and numbers.

  • There are 2 “build new”options and 1 renovation option that the School Board narrowed down from a list of 5. They vary from 1 phase of construction lasting 2.5 years to multi-phases that last 4+ years.
  • Don’t focus too much on the details of the designs. This study was meant to focus on feasibility and high level concepts – ie, test-fitting the school requirements and desire to maximize acreage for economic development, seeing what can fit, comparing build new vs renovation, and benchmarking our program against neighbors. If we choose to move forward, there will be a more formal RFP process where we’ll get multiple designs and bids and the end design could likely look different.
  • Letty’s thoughts – as I expressed in our joint session, I am a bit disappointed that the renovation option was not as affordable as we had estimated in the winter. I don’t necessarily favor renovation, but I believe we should have a spectrum of options offering real choices and tradeoffs. Each option’s construction costs are north of $100M and with soft costs added in, total costs could be $120M-$130M. With renovation costing nearly as much as a brand new construction, renovation doesn’t seem to make sense. I was glad to see the architects present potential levers to reduce costs and hope we’ll give them serious consideration.

(2) GMHS Campus Next Steps & Timeline

  • Next Friday, June 16 – After tomorrow’s Town Hall focused on the school options, we’ll get an initial look at the market study and draft valuation for the economic development portion of the project at the Economic Development Working Group meeting – ie, what the real estate consultants believe the market will want to offer for the 10 acres. You often hear or read the term “highest and best use” – and that is where the consultants will start, but I expect we’ll also receive valuations for other development options so there can be a public discussion on how we want the 10 acres developed. That said, different development options have different values, which means the offset for school construction costs (and the subsequent tax rate increases needed) will vary.
  • Monday, June 19 – Joint School Board and City Council meeting
  • Monday, June 26 or July 10 – first reading on November referendum ordinance
  • Monday, July 24 – second reading/final decision on November referendum ordinance

If you’re confused on the process we’ve embarked and how all of these studies and cost estimates fit together, fellow citizen and new-ish Planning Commissioner Tim Stevens put together this handy flow chart. It does a nice job laying out the work of the Campus Working Group, the Economic Development Working Group, and how the workstreams come back together with collaboration between the School Board and City Council, culminating in a Council decision at the end of July on whether a bond question is placed on the November 2017 ballot.flowchart

(3) Broad and Washington Project

The other biggie from this week’s meeting was a joint work session with the Planning Commission on the Broad and Washington project’s 4th submission. As a quick reminder, this is proposed to be a mixed use project, with a new Class A office building on the corner, 289 apartments, retail, and a new home for Creative Cauldron. It is projected to generate $400K-960K net revenue per year vs the site currently generates $64K net revenue per year.

We last met in April, and I believe the developers were responsive to the concerns we outlined and the project is moving in the right direction. However, several key issues and questions remain and will need more work and discussion with the neighborhood. For example, the mass and setback on Lawton St. have been reduced; I remain concerned about the lack of accessible, public green space and parking flow between the municipal lot and the proposed development’s garage; and we’ll need more assurances on the office and retail uses. Other members of Council and the Planning Commission shared their concerns as well. For the most important intersection in the City, we all want to have an exceptional project that will offer both financial and community value.

I expect we’ll discuss next Monday if the project is ready for a first reading vote/referral to Boards and Commissions for their round of feedback.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Tomorrow – Saturday, June 10 – Community Town Hall on GMHS (9 am, MEH Cafetorium)
  • Sunday, June 11 – not city-sponsored but if you cannot attend Saturday’s town hall, this is a good option. (3 pm, American Legion) VPIS will be presenting a panel discussion of the plans and options for the George Mason site.
  • Monday, June 12 – City Council regular meeting, including public comment (730 pm, City Hall)
  • Tuesday, June 13 – Virginia Democrat and Republic Primaries – go vote!
  • Friday, June 16 – Campus Economic Development Working Group (730 am, City Hall Dogwood Room)
  • Monday, July 24 – final City Council vote for referendum language