Bond for New High School Construction Passes Easily

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 7, 2017

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of Falls Church City was decided by voters today. That future now appears to include a brand new George Mason High School after voters handily approved a bond referendum authorizing city officials to borrow and spend up to $120 million for the school’s construction.

This does not mean one has to agree with the majority’s decision. But it would be difficult to argue that there has been a more significant day in the City’s history. By voting yes, the 63 percent of residents who voted said they want — and are willing to pay for — a new high school, even though many risks and uncertainties about the project abound.

Without question, it’s a big number, especially for a city the size of Falls Church. Officials are aware of this, but pointed out that by approving the project, it would allow for the demolition of the existing school, which in turn would allow for large scale development at the busy northeast corner of Broad Street and Haycock Road. A sale or lease of the City-owned land at that corner for office, retail, and residential construction could bring in as much as $40 million, according to the City’s consultants. If that plays out as they expect and hope, it would offset one-third of the anticipated construction costs, and that’s before factoring in increased property and sales taxes from whatever is built there.

But what if it doesn’t workout as planned? That was the argument proffered by the bond’s opponents, who noted that City homeowners could be on the hook for much higher taxes if the City can’t sell or lease the land for the numbers they envision. Taxpayers could also be jolted by much higher taxes even if the City is right about the number but wrong about how quickly they can get it or how quickly the new development could get built.

Opponents also worried that City officials aren’t up to the task of managing such a big project. They cited the issues with the much smaller Mt. Daniel School referendum, in which bonds were sold before the City received permits from Fairfax County, where the school is located, and then had to scramble when Fairfax officials objected to the Mt. Daniel expansion plans.

Those are legitimate concerns, but voters agreed to accept those risks tonight. Planning for the new school will likely begin almost immediately. There are many new officials now on the school board — and in the superintendent’s office — who weren’t there when the Mt. Daniel project was conceived and approved. It will be a big test for City officials to manage and get it right. Residents will find out if they can handle it.

By
November 7, 2017 

Comments

2 Responses to “Bond for New High School Construction Passes Easily”

  1. Lou Mauro on November 8th, 2017 4:22 pm

    Decent article, Stephen. A brief but objective and fair description of the major concerns.

  2. Stephen Siegel on November 8th, 2017 11:27 pm

    Thanks, Lou.

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