Supervisors Approve Permit for School Construction

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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved a special exception permit Tuesday to allow the school system to begin construction on a high school outside Purcellville, but a judge may have to decide when or if the first shovel of dirt is turned.

It was a long-awaited vote for a school already behind schedule, and several parents who addressed the board before its 6 to 3 decision implored the supervisors to help open the school as soon as possible.

"In the interest of relieving the overcrowding at Loudoun Valley [High School] and serving the children of western Loudoun, I think it's time to cast our votes and move on," said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who made the motion to approve the permit.

But it's unclear how much the school system can move.

The Town of Purcellville will soon have three lawsuits pending to stop the high school, which town officials say would violate a planning agreement between the county and the town.

To protect its agreement and to avoid setting a precedent for residential and commercial developments, the town has appealed a March decision by Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne that the county does not need a building permit from the town for the school project. Town officials filed another lawsuit last month to condemn part of the county-owned property, saying they needed the land to build a well and water treatment facilities to address a water shortage.

After Tuesday's vote, School Board Chairman Robert F. DuPree Jr. (Dulles) said he hoped town officials would drop their lawsuits and work with the county on their concerns about traffic and water. "The time for disagreeing is over," he said.

School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III responded similarly in an interview. "All I can hope is that we will get on the same page [with the town] and that it won't be through the courts," he said.

But Purcellville Mayor Robert W. Lazaro Jr. said he intended to see the lawsuits through and to file a third suit appealing the decision by the Board of Supervisors.

"The board's action today violates the law, our growth management contract and Judge Horne's decision. It is a shame that the county continues to delay this badly needed school," Lazaro said in a statement.

Supervisors Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) and Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) and Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) voted against approving the permit.

Staton, citing the litigation, said he was not convinced by the School Board's argument that the fastest way to open a school would be on the site near Purcellville.

"I pose the question, 'What happens if Purcellville wins?' The years of waiting and doing nothing will all have been wasted, and we'll still have to find a new high school," Staton said.

Waters echoed his concern. "At the end of the day, we are taking a huge risk. We cannot predict what courts will decide. If we go forward to give funds to a contractor to start construction, in the end we will have made a $74 million mistake."

School officials declined to say whether they would be willing to hire a contractor to start construction while litigation was pending.

DuPree said that "barring further obstacles," the school system probably would award a contract this summer.


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