Prince William is proposing to open two high schools in the same year and make substantial additions to several older schools in a capital improvement plan presented to the School Board last week.

The capital improvement plan is presented to the board before the rest of the budget to give county staff a chance to study the projects and make sure they fit in with other proposals.

Coping with growth, as in previous years, is the biggest issue. Nearly 7,000 new students are expected to arrive in the next five years in a school system that is already 3,600 spaces short. In 10 years, more than 12,600 new students are expected to enroll in Prince William schools. "We've probably done a little bit better job of balancing the needs of our older schools with new construction," said Associate Superintendent for Management Robert A. Ferrebee.

Several substantial additions are proposed for older schools, whose attendance boundaries are too difficult to redraw to ease crowding. Graham Park Middle, Dale City Elementary and Vaughan Elementary are all slated to get four rooms apiece in September 2001, at a total cost of $2.4 million. Godwin Middle School would have an eight-room addition in September 2002 under the proposal.

School staff have proposed opening a large high school in the western part of Prince William and a slightly smaller high school, accommodating 1,400 to 1,600 students, in the eastern end in September 2004.

The western high school would serve students who will live in the fast-growing western developments, while the eastern high school would be filled with students coming to the developments in the Cherry Hill peninsula. Opening the schools at the same time would eliminate a need for students to swap schools more than once.

The combination of new construction, renovations and repairs is expected to cost about $224 million over five years. The high schools would cost nearly $76 million alone.

School staff will have to work closely with the county to make sure Prince William doesn't go into too much debt to finance the schools, Ferrebee said. The county's bond rating could be affected if debt rises above 10 percent of revenue. Prince William also plans to build a middle school, to open in 2005, in the Linton Hall area.

School Board Chairman Lucy S. Beauchamp (At Large) praised the plan for its mix of new projects and renovations to older schools. In past years, the school system has been scrambling to keep up with critical repairs when it wasn't building new schools.

"Most of what we've been able to do [in the past] is fix leaky roofs," Beauchamp said.