- Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 December 2010 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 29 December 2010 00:00
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The King George Board of Supervisors last week discussed the School Board’s about-face to ask the county to substitute a $9.6 million renovation project for Potomac Elementary School for a $3 million project for construction of a new sports stadium at the high school.
The four Supervisors present at the meeting on Dec. 21 were in agreement to go forward with the stadium project, which had also been agreed to by the School Board at a joint meeting on Nov. 30.
That was before the School Board changed its position on Dec. 9 on a suggestion by School Board member Dennis Paulsen.
Some Supervisors had plenty to say on the topic, with the School Board’s proposed re-prioritization of Capital Improvement Program projects as an item on the Dec. 21 agenda for discussion.
Chairman Dale Sisson announced the topic and called for comments.
Supervisor Joe Grzeika responded. “I’m dismayed at the latest actions by the School Board,” Grzeika said.
“On the stadium, I find it counter to the planning and the needs we know we have, and that we all have agreed upon as late as a few weeks ago. I am not in favor of halting this planned project. We have a need as evidenced by the near collapse of our teams being able to play games at home. I remember the outcry from these same School Board members on the disservice we would be doing to our students.”
Attempting to get ahead of the inevitable criticism, Grzeika stated, “I am not going to buy into the false claim that we do not care about our students. We have made significant investments in the school system. In the current year’s budget there was an additional almost $2 million above what was requested.”
He added, “The lack of proper heating and cooling at Potomac has nothing to do with the renovation project. The school system has the responsibility to ensure an adequate environment for their students. So I suppose that would lead to a cry about inadequate funding. I don’t buy it. Last year, just before the end of the year the School Board adjusted their budget by taking $250,000 from their maintenance accounts to forward-fund some other buys.”
Grzeika continued, noting that the School Board has turned back funding every year, including nearly $700,000 surplus at the end of the last year. “I do not believe they have a focus on their budget and they are not enforcing accountability within the system they control,” Grzeika stated.
He added, “I have seen a trend in the schools that is disturbing. The maintenance responsibility is not being performed adequately - Potomac, the fields, and even the cleaning at the new high school. I would hope the public sees it for what it is - a school system that is reactionary, deficient in maintaining their facilities and quick to look to blame the Board of Supervisors, rather than address their issues within the budget they have, which history shows is adequate. And, that they make maintenance a priority and focus their concerns internally, and requiring accountability at the top of their organization. Last, I want to note that the school system accounts for approximately 65 percent of our annual debt payment. So, clearly the Board of Supervisors and this community have made significant investment in our schools.”
Supervisor John LoBuglio agreed, saying, “You don’t take funding away from projects that are doing a good job of staying within their budget and trying to finish them off, and giving that funding to different project that the funding was not budgeted for in the first place. Then you are never going to complete the first project.”
DISSERVICE TO COMMUNITY TO WASTE DESIGN MONEY
LoBuglio said the stadium should be built. “For us to have now put $375,000 to finalize that design to go to the street, it would be very much a disservice to the community as a whole when you look at it, because it would be a waste of that money that was just spent.”
He added, “We can finish off the allocated money for the high school and give it to the stadium without allocating any new money for it in this environment right now. And I just have to say I believe we just have to stay on the course with that. And we need to take Potomac as a separate issue.”
About Potomac, LoBuglio stated, “When we spoke a few weeks ago, it didn’t seem anywhere near the urgency that all of a sudden it has raised itself to. I believe we just need to break out and search through and look at and separate out from that $9 million what is really critical. I don’t think we are ready to deal with it until that is done and then we can move forward as a separate issue.”
Sisson spoke next, saying, “There are a number of ways to look at this. Primarily, I look at the execution of the Capital Improvement Program is the execution of a long-range program. I look at the nature of how we build that plan and how we forecast for the out-years and balance and prioritize funding and projects against all of our county’s needs. I mentioned earlier we built a Strategic plan – again we’re thinking long-term, we’re thinking bigger picture and avoiding knee-jerk reactions.”
STADIUM WAS A PRIORITY
Warming to the topic, he continued, saying they held a joint meeting on Nov. 30. “That was just three weeks ago, three weeks ago tonight when we received a status on the stadium. We left that meeting that night I thought understanding a couple of things. One, the stadium was still priority one and as part of that, we’d done due diligence on a design and were ready to move forward. The second thing I understood was that there are needs at Potomac that at some time need to be addressed. Which speaks to what Mr. LoBuglio said - that there is an issue that probably needs to be addressed at some time in the future.”
Sisson stated, “But I am having a hard time with one of the arguments relative to Potomac. And Mr. Grzeika hit the points right on the head. There are maintenance items that have to happen, should happen, that are part of running any organization, any building, any facility, any infrastructure. The responsible organization has cognizance of ensuring that those systems are up-to-date, running and operational.”
He added, “But the problem that I am having is that part of the argument that was made in our joint meeting is ‘that school building is not as good as the brand new one that we just built.’ I don’t disagree in terms of some of the general facilities. What is not clear to me is how that has a definite impact on programming and educational value. But I’ll just talk to the ‘new building’ argument. If that’s the argument - that every time we build a new building that everything must then immediately match that standard - to me that says ‘never build a new building,’ because you can’t afford it. That is not a sustainable model financially.”
ALL BUILDINGS MUST INSTANTLY MATCH?
Sisson provided an example, saying, “At the moment that we open a new school, or a new facility of any kind – this is not just directed at the School Board – if all the other facilities must instantly match or very shortly thereafter instantly match the capabilities of that facility or the quality of the carpet or the paint on the walls, then to me, that says never build another new facility. So I’m just telling you that’s my take on that.”
PUT THE PROJECT TO BID AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE
He summed up saying, “My opinion is we move out as quickly as possible in putting that project out to bid. We are in an economy where we can benefit from low construction costs. We’ve seen that time and time again on the projects that we’ve executed. I think to hesitate is lost money for our taxpayers. As John pointed out, we’ve invested $370-some thousand in design and to not execute on that now is wasting the taxpayer dollars. That’s a full penny on the tax rate next year that we just flushed. And I can’t support doing that, when we did that in a way that executed a long term plan. I understand the School Board has identified some needs there with Potomac Elementary School. If those need to be addressed, we need to address those deliberately and not in a knee-jerk manner, as I think was pointed out. Another point that I think our board needs to understand is that it is our duty and our responsibility to execute that long term.”
Supervisor James Mullen said he agreed.
Sisson directed County Administrator Travis Quesenberry to proceed with value engineering after the design is complete, saying, “I think what you are hearing tonight is there is no change to our plan.”
DESIGN CONTRACT TOPS $280,000
The cost of the original design contract for the stadium was $263,600, including Phase I, which evaluated the site at the high school and also evaluated Hunter Field to assist officials in determining whether to build a new stadium or upgrade Hunter Field to current standards.
At the request of the School Board and Superintendent Candace Brown, there was a change order for design of an access road to connect the high school with the middle school. That increased the contract amount by $16,690, bringing the total amount to $280,290.
By Phyllis Cook