Fairfax County voters will be asked whether the county should sell $246.3 million in bonds to build one school, upgrade several others and provide money to assess the impact of the Pentagon's plan to move thousands of jobs into the county.
The bond referendum includes $19 million for an elementary school that would be built on Coppermine Road in the western part of the county. The biggest-ticket item, at $63 million, is a full-scale renovation at Edison High School in the Alexandria section of the county. The school opened in 1962 and has never been significantly overhauled.
School Board member Brad Center (Lee), chairman of the board's facilities and operations committee, said the investment is needed to update aging schools, both for children who attend classes and others in the community.
"From polling places to churches to town hall meetings, all these things happen in our schools," Center said. "Everybody uses the schools. It's a place that knits the community together."
The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, which routinely opposes the financing of county projects through bond sales, has weighed in against the measure. Alliance leaders do not dispute the need to update schools but argue that bonds are a bad way to pay for the projects.
"They should pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis," said Arthur G. Purves, alliance president. "They should not be borrowing."
In addition to the funding to refurbish Edison, the ballot question includes $114 million for renovations or for planning future upgrades at more than a dozen schools. It includes $35 million in bond sales for standard maintenance at schools, including buying new boilers, upgrading computers and repaving.
Although $8 million is included to plan for two new elementary schools and purchase land for future schools, School Board members note that the largest share of the bond sales would go to pay for renovations. Board members said that in past years more money was devoted to new construction but that a leveling of the student population has allowed the district to concentrate more resources on maintaining older buildings.
"We've shifted our focus from building a ton of new schools to renovating our old schools," Center said.
Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services, said specific details of the Edison overhaul, which would begin in 2008 or 2009, would be decided when design work begins in 2007, if the project goes forward. But he said the renovations would include updated air conditioning, heating, plumbing and lighting. In addition, classrooms would be refurbished, and science and computer labs and the media center would be modernized.
School officials also included in the referendum $2 million that would be set aside to plan for schools that may be needed to accommodate children of families who come to the area because of the Pentagon plan to shift thousands of jobs to Fort Belvoir, in the southeast part of the county, and the surrounding area.
The bond proposal does not include funding for a new school administration building in Merrifield. About 600 school system employees who now work in several buildings owned or leased by the system are scheduled this spring to move into the new building, which is being paid for with bonds issued by the county's Economic Development Authority.
School officials said the debt would be paid by redirecting money from leasing office space, with savings from the travel budget and with money that would have been used to renovate and maintain the existing administration buildings.