Prince William may open school early as cost to build falls

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

A new school in Prince William County's western end could pop up sooner than expected, thanks to a down economy that has helped the school system save millions of dollars in construction costs.

Prince William schools officials said bids for T. Clay Wood Elementary School and a yet-to-be-named middle school in Gainesville came in about $21 million lower than budgeted. The savings, they said, will create room in the budget to push up by one year the opening of an additional much-needed elementary school in the Linton Hall area.

"Having these bids come in below is one silver lining to the economic situation we are in," said School Board Vice Chairman Gilbert A. "Gil" Trenum Jr. (Brentsville). "We are still trying to play catch-up, so to have an opportunity to bring a school online a year ahead of time is a good thing and will make a lot of the community members a lot happier."

School officials said they awarded a roughly $14 million contract to Sigal Construction to build T. Clay Wood and a roughly $19 million contract to Caldwell and Santmyer for the Gainesville school, unofficially known as the Silver Lake middle school. The new figures will be in a capital improvements budget scheduled to be adopted by the School Board on Wednesday.

T. Clay Wood, on Kettle Run Road, is scheduled to open in 2011 along with Patriot High School, which is under construction. The proposed Linton Hall school should also open in 2011, instead of 2012. Bids for that project are due at the end of the month. The middle school is scheduled to open in 2012.

Trenum said overcrowding is many parents' biggest concern, and last month, supervisors passed a policy to curb growth in the Linton Hall area and stem the tide of students. The policy allows the board to approve rezonings but prevents developers from getting building permits until two new elementary schools and a high school are open and sites for an additional elementary and middle school are acquired.

T. Clay Wood and the proposed Linton Hall school will meet part of the requirements, said Ken Blackstone, spokesman for Prince William schools.

T. Clay Wood will hold 850 students and probably relieve overcrowding at Cedar Point, Bristow Run, Victory and Nokesville elementary schools, Blackstone said, adding that official school boundaries have not been adopted. All those buildings are over their ideal capacity by 40 percent except Victory, which is over by about 16 percent.

The middle school will hold about 1,200 students and probably draw students from Bull Run, Gainesville and Marsteller middle schools, Blackstone said. Those schools are 2 to 24 percent overcapacity.

Blackstone said the new schools are planned to open below capacity to leave room for future development.

"The opening of the schools will go a long way with the overcrowding situation, but we are certainly not [in the clear] yet," Trenum said. "We're still growing, and it is going to take an ongoing commitment to keep up and catch up."

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