With the resounding passage of three school construction bonds totaling $44.89 million, Prince William County voters made provisions for four new schools and an addition to an elementary school in Dumfries.
The referendum, which passed Tuesday with 62 percent of the vote, will finance construction of a seventh high school ($23.7 million), a middle school ($11.2 million), two elementary schools ($4.57 million each) and the addition at Dumfries Elementary School ($850,000) -- all in the eastern end of the county.
Prince William has seen an explosion in its student population in the last decade, to the point where it now has the fourth-largest school system in Virginia, with more than 39,000 students enrolled this fall. The new schools will accommodate 4,500 students.
Voters in the county have not been receptive to bond referendums in recent years -- before Tuesday, nine of the last 11 had failed -- and some observers had been worried about the school bonds, but no opposition materialized.
"We're thrilled," School Board Chairman Gerard P. Cleary of Woodbridge said yesterday. "It shows that the priorities of the citizens of this county are in quality education. But the real winners here are . . . the kids."
More than 100 trailer classrooms are in use in the county, and student enrollment is projected to grow by at least 1,000 students in each of the next five years.
Had the bonds not passed, school officials said Prince William would have had to consider returning to year-round schooling, which was tried in the 1970s and phased out in 1981.
The county's seven-member School Board last night to approved each project authorized by the bonds, set a timetable for planning and construction and asked the Board of County Supervisors to release funds, even before the bonds are sold early next year, so that design and construction bids can be solicited.
"We really need to act quickly if we are to have these buildings completed" by the target dates, said Superintendent Edward L. Kelly, who came to Prince William during the summer after five years as head of public schools in Little Rock, Ark.
Construction on the 2,000-student high school, to be located west of Dale City, is to begin by April 1989 for a September 1991 opening.
The 1,000-student middle school, to be built in Lake Ridge beginning next June, is scheduled to open in September 1989. The two 750-student elementary schools -- one in western Dale City, the other west of Lake Ridge -- also are due to open in September 1989, while the seven-classroom addition to Dumfries Elementary School should be completed by March 1989.
"I have a wide grin on my face today," said Donna Blanton, chairman of the Prince William County Citizens for Quality Education, a citizens group that promoted the referendum. "The message to kids is that people care about them. Someday they'll be voters. We want them to care then, too. I think it's a real important message to get across."
According to Lawrence Hughes, deputy county executive, sale of the $44.89 million in bonds probably will begin in January.