After months of discord between Manassas's two top elected bodies, the city's planned intermediate school is now a done deal.
On Monday night, the Manassas City Council unanimously approved the School Board's chosen site, 13 acres known as Signal Hill, along with a $31.5 million budget and a final comprehensive agreement with M.B. Kahn Construction Co. of Columbia, S.C. The authorization includes $3.5 million for renovations to Jennie Dean Elementary. Vice Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R) was absent.
Council members' decision to transfer the city-owned site to the School Board lays to rest a protracted clash over whether the plot was best suited for the school. Council members and city residents have expressed concerns over whether the parcel, which has an electrical substation, is safe enough for children and large enough for a 1,200-student school.
At council members' urging, school officials spent several weeks last month considering an alternative site at Grant Avenue and Hastings Drive. Ultimately, the School Board ruled that site out as too expensive, said member Scott M. Albrecht. The site would have cost more than $6 million, he said.
"The board made a cautious decision," Albrecht said. "We said we have a perfectly good site that we're all comfortable with. . . . When the council asked us to go look at the site, we did. But ultimately, [the Signal Hill site] continued to make the most sense."
Mayor Douglas S. Waldron (R) called the votes very significant. "We will, as a result of these actions, build a new intermediate school," he said. "It's the right thing to do for our growing city."
Council member J. Steven Randolph (I) said he sincerely thought that voting to transfer the land for the new school was the right thing to do for the city's children.
Still, not everyone is pleased.
City Council member Robert Oliver (R) said that, although his concerns over the substation, parking, traffic and other items were resolved, he's still not happy with the chosen site.
"I still don't think it's large enough because it's one of the smaller properties the School Board has built on," Oliver said. "I'm not sure where the playground . . . will go, but that's [the School Board's] decision. And they have to live with that as far as that goes."
Oliver emphasized that it's the School Board's job to make such decisions.
"To me they represent the people" on this, he said, adding that all four School Board members who ran in May were reelected and all supported building the new school. "Whatever site they choose is appropriate as far as the people are concerned. All we control are the dollars."
Several city residents gathered in the parking lot outside City Hall after the vote Monday night, venting their ongoing displeasure over the site and the politics surrounding the school.
"I'm very disappointed because I felt like Manassas worked at a higher standard," said Terri Vieyra, who lives nearly across the street from the school site. "I've been to almost all the meetings, and I spoke at one. . . . I just thought they would vote their conscience."
Carmen Giebelhaus, 54, who lives across the street from the site, said she thought that City Council members "caved to the path of least resistance."
"The City Council is saying, 'We're not going to make this our problem anymore,' " she said.
Meanwhile, the School Board is "doing a Band-Aid to solve a problem instead of thinking critically about what the impact will be in the long run," Giebelhaus said. "It's worse for the City Council because they've actually just relegated their oversight responsibility on this decision [even though] the more experienced there think it is not good."
Acknowledging that the process was "long and arduous," Albrecht said that with residents' involvement and the lack of space in Manassas, the School Board believes it made the best decision. With many residents seeking relief from crowded schools and temporary classroom trailers, School Board members face a juggling act, he said.
"You have to balance everything: cost, schedule and performance," he said, estimating a completion date for the new school of summer 2006.
Monday's vote turned the project from a hypothetical into fact.
"It's no longer a campaign promise," Albrecht said. "There were statements made that [the process] wasn't competitive enough. . . . [But] now that we have finality on how we're proceeding, we can begin moving dirt, so to speak."