The Prince William County School Board approved a controversial aquatics facility as part of a $97.9 million high school construction deal Wednesday night, bringing an end to a lengthy debate about whether the school system could afford to spring for a school with a pool.
In the end, the board voted 5 to 3 for the pool, which is expected to cost $8.4 million to build.
“I have agonized for days, and I have listed advantages and disadvantages,” said board member Betty D. Covington (Potomac), who was considered by many to be a swing vote in the long-
“If we build football fields, lacrosse, soccer, baseball fields, track for students who run track. Why do we not have a pool, at least one pool, for students in Prince William County to swim?”
Covington and others who supported the pool for the Independent Hill school said that it was an equity issue to expand access to the sport and that investing in a pool represented a commitment to future generations of county residents.
Several swimmers wearing warm-up jackets talked to the board about the need for extra swim lanes in the county. The facility will be used by swim teams, students and community members, as well as robotics teams for underwater competitions.
The 2,050-student school, scheduled to open in 2016, is expected to relieve crowding at three other high schools in the fast-growing county. Its design is based on Patriot High School in Nokesville. The new school will have an expanded auditorium, a black-box theater and other facilities for a visual and performing arts specialty program.
The amenities, and the pool in particular, have become a symbol of frivolous spending to some residents, who say the district should prioritize spending on other issues. Prince William has the largest class sizes in Virginia and lags neighboring districts in teacher pay.
Board members Gilbert A. Trenum Jr. (Brentsville), Alyson A. Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Lisa E. Bell (Neabsco) voted against the high school plans, saying that pool construction should be the responsibility of the county’s parks department.
Trenum proposed delaying the vote until next month, after the board has a broader discussion about school construction.
“Nobody is asking that we build square boxes or schools that look like prisons, but we are building schools for our students,” he said. “We’re not building temples to the gods of education,” Trenum said.