Updates from Letty – September 22, 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,

It’s been a whirlwind week in the Little City – it was great to see diverse turnout at last weekend’s events – the Fall Festival and Taste of Falls Church, FCEF’s Run for the Schools, the Referendum debate, then our City Council work session Monday night. We then had a day to catch our breaths before a VIP rolled into town. Read on to find out who it was and why this visit was important.

I’ll be short and sweet with the “what happened” portion of my email. Like last week where I devoted most of my blog post to a GMHS recap of how we got to a $120M bond referendum (thank you for all of the positive feedback!) – I’m going to include FAQs I’ve been hearing around town and my take on the answers. Feel free to send me FAQs to be included in upcoming posts that you think may be helpful to others.

Thanks for staying engaged!


What Happened This Week:

City Council Work Session Highlights – TL;DR version:

  • Railroad Ave Fire After Action Report – we heard from the head honchos in charge of Arlington’s fire response communications who took full responsibility for the slow response time to the recent fire at Railroad Ave. While the investigation revealed no policy violations, they acknowledged a number of process issues that resulted in the slow response and follow up mitigation actions that have since been implemented. With the number of streets in the City that also border Arlington and Fairfax County, much of our discussion centered around ensuring system maps correctly reflect the correct jurisdiction to prevent future delays in response.
  • City Hall – the construction phase of the $17M City Hall renovation and expansion project will be underway by the end of this year. We received an updated look at the design and floor plans this week; we expect to vote on the construction contract with the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) in November. Quick reminder: the project will include a unified front entrance, public safety improvements like a secured one story garage, and ADA renovations throughout.
  • Out of State Plates Vehicle License Fee – the Commissioner of Revenue and Treasurer are proposing a $100 fee for cars who do not display current Virginia license plates. Virginia law states that within 30 days of moving to the state, you have to register your car with the DMV and get Virginia plates (exception for military personnel who have permanent residences elsewhere). All of our neighboring jurisdictions have similar fees in place already. If we adopt this fee, the revenue impact will be minimal, so the ultimate goal of the ordinance is to encourage compliance with city and state licensing and registration laws. We’ll be voting on first reading at our meeting next Monday, September 25.

GMHS Recap – if you haven’t read my review of the GMHS project the past 20+ months, go check it out! For you visual learners, FCCPS published a picture version with links to more detail on each option that we explored, pros and cons, and why it was eliminated.

Governor McAulliffe Visits Falls Church!

We welcomed Governor McAulliffe to Falls Church on Wednesday in recognition of the Commuter Choice program for I-66. Yes it does entail tolling on 66 inside the Beltway that starts in December (get a refresher of the impact to your commute on I-66 here: http://inside.transform66.org). However, those toll dollars help fund projects for alternative modes of transportation that ultimately have the goal of reducing congestion in the corridor. One such project is the eagerly awaited Capital Bikeshare coming to the city in the spring!

Post event, we were also able to bend the ear of the Governor and show off the Little City. We shared how great Falls Church is to live, work, and play and highlighted the economic development potential of the 10 acres at the GMHS campus, should the referendum pass in November. A few photos are posted on my Facebook page here and the official press release can be found here.

Letty’s FAQs:

Q: What is the urgency to do the GMHS project now?

Letty’s A: GMHS is nearly 65 years old, and the physical state of the building is poor with many systems beyond time to be replaced – the boiler, roof, HVAC, electrical systems. There is general agreement in the community that *something* needs to be done. Much study has gone into the “how” – various options to address the school and a key consideration has been whether it makes financial sense to put more money and time into rehabilitation when the costs of renovation are nearly comparable to new construction. Also, with enrollment projections (see below) forecasted to put the school further over capacity, we know that putting it off means that construction costs will continue to rise and interest rates could increase, therefore costing the taxpayer more in the end.

Q: How can we be building GMHS based on enrollment projections that are “wildly inaccurate”? What if we’re building too big or too small?

Letty’s A: Recently, I’ve heard claims that student enrollment projections are off by as much as 25%. While enrollment forecasting is never perfect and forecasts become less accurate the further out in time, FCCPS receives projections from an external, reputable source – the Weldon Cooper Center at UVA, who does forecasting for other school systems too. WC uses birth rate data and grade progression methodology in the forecast and each year, refines the forecast based on actual enrollments so any new students from developments are integrated into cohort numbers the next year (in response to the questions whether mixed use development projects are included if forecasts are just based on birth rates, which is false).

Looking at the past 10 and past 5 years enrollment growth rates – they have been 3.7% and 4.3%, respectively which are healthy and above average for the region but also not “explosive” when looking at the overall trend. We expect to get official numbers for the 2017-2018 school year in the next few weeks. Looking ahead – WC forecasts around 1200 grade 9-12 students in 10 years and approaching 1400 in 15 years. By building a new GMHS with a flexible capacity of 1200-1500 students, we hope to be “right sizing” the school so that it is neither over capacity within years of opening but also not too big that it will be underutilized for years to come.

In terms of the accuracy of projections – the past 10 years actual enrollment has been within 1.3% of projections, and over the past 5 years, it has been within 1.8% of projections.

Letty’s conclusion: our enrollment growth is generally upward and yes, year to year – there may be some fluctuations but the WC forecasts have been pretty good. 

Enrollment Projections vs Actuals

Q: What is Plan B if the referendum fails?

Letty’s A: Caveat: we haven’t had an explicit discussion in a City Council meeting with the School Board nor Superintendent about a plan B so my response is based on a recent Q&A session. The current estimates are $40M to repair and replace the aging infrastructure like the HVAC, roof, and updated ADA requirements. Another $30M would be needed to build a 25 classroom addition to accommodate future enrollment growth. The footprint of GMHS would remain and expand – in other words, we still have to pay the $70M cost of renovations and addition that likely has a shorter lifespan vs a new building AND we would have no land available for economic development to offset the $70M cost. While the trailers would add student capacity, shared spaces like the cafeteria, gyms, hallways, etc would not change from current numbers.


What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, September 25 at 730 pm – City Council Meeting (City Hall)
  • Tuesday, September 26 at 7 pm – Joint PTA Meeting on GMHS Project (GMHS)
  • Wednesday, September 27 at 7 pm – City Council Candidate Forum (American Legion)

Letty’s Office Hours

  • Sunday, October 1 at 9 am – Cafe Kindred
  • Monday, October 16 at 9 am – Happy Tart
  • Tuesday, October 31 at 9 am – Rare Bird