County voters will be asked Tuesday to approve more than $127 million in funding for public building projects this year, the vast majority of which would go to construct two high schools south of the Dulles Greenway in eastern Loudoun.
In two separate questions, voters will be asked whether the county can take on almost $119 million in debt for school projects and about $8.8 million to build a fire/sheriff's station near Routes 7 and 28 to handle public safety needs for the area's growing population.
Of the money earmarked for schools, $13.88 million would go to renovating Broad Run High School and expanding its gymnasium. But the majority of the funds, $105 million, would go toward building high schools in South Riding and in the Brambleton development -- less than 10 miles apart -- at more than $52 million each. Both schools could open as early as 2005.
The high school issue has been a contentious one for the School Board, which narrowly recommended placing both schools on the ballot by a vote of 5 to 4. Board members who voted for the move saw it as a compromise that would end a bitter clash between two communities of parents, each of which argued that the school closer to them should be built first. Board members who voted for the plan also said that growth in the area would soon support two additional high schools and that building them sooner would allow them to take advantage of construction costs that are low now because of the weak economy.
But several board members argued that crowding at the two Ashburn high schools, Broad Run and Stone Bridge, would justify opening only one new high school in 2005. Those members said the school system could not afford to operate two less-than-full high schools at once. They favored building the high school in Brambleton first, to accommodate burgeoning growth in the Ashburn area.
According to population projections compiled by the school system in January, if the 1,600-pupil schools opened simultaneously in 2005, 968 students would enroll in the Brambleton school and 528 in the South Riding school. Supporters of opening both schools at once have argued those numbers do not take into account new families likely to move into the area once they know the School Board will build a high school there.
School Board Chairman Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles), who argued strenuously against putting both schools on the ballot, said he now urges voters to approve the measure.
"You look at Stone Bridge, and it's full. You look at Broad Run, and it's got trailers in the front and trailers in the back. If [the two-school measure] fails, it will really be a detriment to high school education," Vogric said. "Voting 'no' because you're against one will kill both of them."
J. Warren Geurin (Sterling), another member who opposed placing both schools on the bond, said that when he approaches parents in his community, he simply encourages them to vote on Election Day, without urging them to vote for or against.
"I'm hearing that people have the same question that I have, which is, 'If you only need one school, why are you asking us to approve debt for two?' " he said. "In the hallways and in the parking lot and on the football fields, people express to me that question. And I say to them, 'Well, you know how I voted.' "
If voters approve funding the new rescue station, it would house both sheriff's deputies and personnel from a volunteer Loudoun fire company. An exact site has not yet been chosen, said sheriff's office spokesman Kraig Troxell.
"Without the opening of a new facility, it could severely hamper our ability to deploy and assign deputies and personnel in that area," Troxell said.