The Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday to build the county's second western high school on a site just north of Purcellville known as Fields Farm.
The 7 to 0 vote came after the board met in closed session for about 45 minutes to discuss options -- and after several years of delay and debate about where to put the school. Two board members were absent.
The debate has been the subject of numerous public meetings in western Loudoun. Opinions from residents have filled letters to the editor sections and inspired tremendous debate on the Purcellville town Internet message boards.
Board members said the Fields Farm site, a county-owned parcel on which Mountain View Elementary School is located, presented the best opportunity to get the desperately needed school open on time in 2008 and relieve crowding at Loudoun Valley High School.
"We've been around this barn many, many a time. It's time to cut loose and get public support behind this site," board member Priscilla B. Godfrey (Blue Ridge), who represents the area, said before the vote was taken. "This property is a terrific spot for a high school."
In the end, School Board members said they were choosing between Fields Farm and a property on the eastern end of Hamilton that the board had contemplated buying or seizing through eminent domain. Town leaders in both Hamilton and Purcellville opposed the locations, however, and insisted that other options were dismissed prematurely.
Purcellville Mayor W.T. "Bill" Druhan Jr. said he was disappointed by the board's vote but said the Town Council would do everything possible to get the 1,600-student high school open by 2008.
Druhan noted, however, that major hurdles remain. The council has begun discussions about annexing the site, but he said the process could take at least two to three years. Annexation is necessary to extend town utilities to the school.
A traffic study also must be conducted to determine how much money is needed for road improvements. No funds have been designated by the state or county for such improvements.
"In the two years of public input sessions we've had for our review process, there has been virtually no support for putting a high school there," Druhan said. "If that's an indication for what the popularity will be, I'd say it doesn't look good."
Town Council member Robert W. Lazaro Jr. faulted the School Board for not finding a more agreeable site earlier.
"I think there's been a failure at the school side for a long time, and now they're between a rock and a hard place, and they're trying to jam it into Purcellville," he said.
Before their vote, however, board members emphasized how much time and study had gone into the issue. Thomas E. Reed (At Large) said that the board had considered seven sites over the years and that Fields Farm was the "only viable site left."
Tuesday's closed session was on the board's published agenda, but there had been no indication that a vote on the controversial matter would take place.
Board Chairman John A. Andrews II (Potomac) said the timing was forced by members of the Board of Supervisors who indicated at several recent meetings that they would keep the school off November's bond referendum if the School Board did not choose a site. Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) addressed the School Board on Tuesday to reiterate the message.
"The voters deserve to know what they're voting on. It shouldn't be ambiguous," he said afterward.
The supervisors are scheduled to vote July 19 on what will appear on November's ballot. Funding for the high school would have to be approved this year for the school to be built and opened by 2008.
That is absolutely critical, Andrews said. Loudoun Valley High School is already crowded with trailers and the school serves only 10th- through 12th-graders. Western Loudoun ninth-graders attend Harmony Intermediate School.
"If this does not get built on schedule, we will then be in a position of having to bus kids to where there are empty seats elsewhere in the county," he said.