The Fauquier County Board of Supervisors said Monday that it favored holding a bond referendum in November to finance the construction of the county's third high school. The board rejected a request from the School Board to speed up construction by borrowing the money before then.
"The time is right to go ahead and start borrowing," said School Board member Jay E. VanGelder (Cedar Run), citing a possible increase in interest rates as a reason not to wait for a referendum.
Architects are still working on plans for the 1,200-student school, so the School Board has no firm price tag for it.. But VanGelder said similar schools in the region have cost about $46 million. He said every half-percent increase in interest rates would cost the county $2 million for the project.
The School Board voted last year to build a third high school to relieve crowding at Fauquier and Liberty high schools. Fauquier High in Warrenton has 1,651 students, more than 200 above capacity, and Liberty in Bealeton has 1,548 students, nearly 50 over its maximum.
"We're overcrowded, there's no question about it," VanGelder told the supervisors at their monthly work session. He predicted that Fauquier's two high schools would be more than 500 students over capacity by 2007, when the third school is scheduled to open.
Schools officials have said the school would probably be built near Marshall, in northern Fauquier, which has no high school, or in New Baltimore, in the eastern end of the county and close to such major arteries as Route 29 and Interstate 66 and where much of the county's housing boom is taking place. VanGelder said a third site also was under consideration, but he would not say where.
Supervisor William G. "Bill" Downey IV (R-Scott) was the only supervisor to speak out Monday for bypassing the bond referendum, the usual way of financing school construction. "I think it would make everybody's life more expedient if we would waive the requirement," he said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Harry Atherton (I-Marshall) said the amount would be "the single biggest borrowing in the history of the county."
"I have trouble taking the public out of the loop on a $45 million borrow," he said.
Supervisors Raymond E. Graham (R-Cedar Run) and Richard W. Robison (R-Center) also opposed waiving the referendum and questioned the high estimate for the school.
"We don't need a Taj Mahal," Robison said, describing Liberty High, with its high ceilings and glass walls, as an extravagant mistake. "We need to be more conservative in our design."
Although the school financing was not formally on the agenda, several residents attended Monday's meeting to speak against waiting for a referendum. One submitted a petition that he said had 40 pages of signatures.
In other business Monday, the board approved design plans for the Central Sports Complex and Community Park, a 72-acre recreation area to be built south of Warrenton on the east side of Route 643. It would include three football fields, three baseball fields, three soccer fields, two softball fields, a hockey rink and several sheltered picnic areas. The county also plans to build two similar facilities -- one in southern Fauquier and one in the northern part of the county.
Larry Miller, parks and recreation director, told supervisors earlier in the day that it was too early to provide a cost for the project, which has been in the works for more than five years. Miller said the project should be eligible for several state grants. He also said the county hoped to break ground later this year.
"I'm excited that, hopefully, we're going to take off with it," said Supervisor Chester W. Stribling (R-Lee).
The complex is to be built, maintained and supervised by the Fauquier Youth Sports Coordination Council, a coalition of youth leagues, and the county will provide utilities and construct roads.
During the evening meeting, Downey was the sole supervisor to express reservations about moving forward with the park.
"By this action we are committing to this project," Downey said, adding that he favored holding off until next month to allow more time to discuss the endeavor with the Town of Warrenton, which has its own plans to build a recreational center with a pool and sports fields. After Stribling said that further delay could jeopardize an entire season of play, Downey said he would not vote against the motion, which carried by voice vote.