Public Safety, Parks Top Bond Priorities
Thursday, November 2, 2006
Police and fire stations and parks top the list of needs for which Fairfax County is asking voters to approve spending $150 million in two bond referendums Nov. 7.
Two years ago, voters approved $325 million in capital investments, including spending for human services buildings, libraries, parks and transportation.
This year, the focus is on public safety. The county is seeking $125 million for major renovations or replacement of police stations in Fair Oaks, McLean and Reston, the Great Falls volunteer fire station, the fire and rescue training academy, and the West Ox Road animal shelter. The 31-year-old animal shelter lacks space to isolate sick animals and is crowded.
Included in the public safety bond is $24.8 million for other upgrades at police and fire stations and courts, including possible security enhancements at police stations to prevent incidents such as the fatal shooting of two officers at the Sully District station in May.
The new fire training building is needed because the 23-year-old facility on West Ox Road can no longer handle the training demands being placed on it, said fire department spokesman Dan Schmidt.
The academy is used to train more than 1,300 personnel in fields including fire, hazardous materials, emergency services and urban search and rescue. The new 20,000-square-foot building would include an adjacent rappelling tower and cost $17 million.
Even more outdated, Schmidt said, is the 46-year-old Great Falls fire station, which is the oldest emergency facility in the county and needs larger bays for modern equipment. Through a proposed agreement with the Great Falls volunteer fire department, the county would pay for most of a new 17,500-square-foot building at a cost of $12 million.
"It's outlived its usefulness," Schmidt said. "The entire facility is really unsatisfactory. It just doesn't meet the needs of our firefighters and our mission."
The police stations to be renovated are not as old -- they were built between 1972 and 1985 -- but the county says they need to be renovated to accommodate increased staffing levels and new technology. As part of the McLean station renovation, the Dranesville District supervisor's office would be moved from the station. Under the Reston station renovation, the Hunter Mill District supervisor's office would stay in that building and undergo an expansion of its own. The three station expansions would cost $18 million each on average.
In a separate $25 million bond, the county is seeking money to buy new parkland and to upgrade existing parks.
The upgrades include $5 million to further develop the county's network of trails and $10 million to convert a dozen sport fields to synthetic turf to address what the park authority says is a glaring shortage of playing fields across the county. Although expensive, the conversion would increase playing capacity by 62 percent, the authority says, because the fields would drain better.
The remaining $10 million in the parks bond would go toward new parkland, with an emphasis on buying land in areas lacking parks, adjacent to existing parks or near natural and cultural resources.
At a recent meeting of citizen activists at Oakton High School, Barbara Hildreth criticized the park authority's plans to acquire large chunks of parkland, saying the money would be better invested in improving neighborhood parks.
Hildreth is a former board member of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which was formed in the 1950s to develop larger parks in the area, and she said the county park authority should be focusing on smaller parks.
"I've heard people say, 'I wish there were small parks in my neighborhood or that the small parks in my neighborhood were well maintained and had more facilities,' " she said.
Judy Pedersen, the county park authority spokeswoman, dismissed this criticism, saying that the county and regional authorities were not competing or overlapping in their pursuit of larger parks.
The real problem, she said, is that there are so few large chunks of potential parkland remaining. Once the county authority reaches its goal of holding 10 percent of the county in parkland -- an additional 1,600 acres on top of the 6,600 it holds now -- it will by necessity turn its attention to upgrading existing parks, Pedersen said.