Pro­jected school cost goes down

Con­sul­tant: Wal­ton re­place­ment ele­men­tary school can fit on ex­ist­ing school’s site

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Buet­tner Staff Writer

PRINCE GE­ORGE — The cost of build­ing a re­place­ment ele­men­tary school at the School Board’s pre­ferred lo­ca­tion has gone down af­ter school of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied an al­ter­na­tive ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign that will elim­i­nate the need to buy ad­di­tional acreage.

Doug West­more­land with Mose­ley Ar­chi­tects re­ported to the Board of Su­per­vi­sors on Tues­day that the al­ter­nate de­sign can be built on the ex­ist­ing Wil­liam A. Wal­ton Ele­men­tary School prop­erty and will al­low the ex­ist­ing school to re­main open while the new school is un­der con­struc­tion.

West­more­land noted that the School Board had planned to build the Wal­ton re­place­ment ac­cord­ing to the de­sign used for the county’s new­est ele­men­tary school, North Ele­men­tary, which opened in 2007.

How­ever, that de­sign would re­quire the ad­di­tion of six acres to the Wal­ton site at an es­ti­mated cost of $475,000. In Septem­ber, the Board of Su­per­vi­sors re­jected the Wal­ton site, based in part on that added cost, and voted to sup­port a lo­ca­tion on Mid­dle Road that would cost about $575,000 less to de­velop.

Since then, West­more­land said, his firm — which has been a con­sul­tant on the project since it was first pro­posed — iden­ti­fied an ele­men­tary school de­sign used in other lo­cal­i­ties, such as York­town, that pro­vided about the same square footage as the North Ele­men­tary de­sign but had a smaller foot­print, mainly by elim­i­nat­ing the school’s cen­tral court­yard.

With the need to buy land elim­i­nated, the site de­vel­op­ment cost for the ex­ist­ing Wal­ton site would fall to just $100,000 more than the Mid­dle Road lo­ca­tion, a dif­fer­ence of 1.7 per­cent.

School Board Chair­man Robert Cox noted Tues­day that keep­ing Wal­ton at its

cur­rent lo­ca­tion would have the ad­di­tional ad­van­tage of elim­i­nat­ing any need to re­draw school dis­trict lines, a process that he said is “go­ing to be chaotic.” He noted that a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion could mean longer bus rides for stu­dents, which al­ready run close to an hour for some stu­dents.

The Board of Su­per­vi­sors took no ac­tion this week on the re­place­ment school project, which isn’t ex­pected to get un­der­way un­til 2020.

Dis­cus­sions, and dis­agree­ments, about the project have been go­ing on for more than year, how­ever, since a Core Com­mit­tee — com­posed of mem­bers of the School Board and Board of Su­per­vi­sors, teach­ers, par­ents and other res­i­dents — de­ter­mined that Prince Ge­orge would need two new ele­men­tary schools by 2025 to re­place the ag­ing and in­creas­ingly crowded Wal­ton and L.L. Bea­z­ley Ele­men­tary.

In Fe­bru­ary of this year, County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Percy Ashcraft in­cluded a cap­i­tal spend­ing item of $29.1 mil­lion for a new school to re­place Wal­ton in his pro­posed bud­get for the 2018-19 fis­cal year, along with a 5-cent in­crease in the real es­tate tax rate to fund the project.

Not sur­pris­ingly, many county res­i­dents ob­jected to the tax in­crease, in­clud­ing some who said they agreed with the need for new schools but wanted it to be funded some other way.

The point be­came moot, how­ever, when Cox told su­per­vi­sors in April that con­struc­tion of the Wal­ton re­place­ment would not need to start un­til 2020. The Board of Su­per­vi­sors then adopted a bud­get that didn’t in­clude the school or the higher tax rate.

Sub­se­quently, the School Board ad­justed its con­struc­tion cost es­ti­mate for any new ele­men­tary school up­ward by about $3 mil­lion to $32.1 mil­lion due to changes in the pro­posed de­sign.

Sev­eral other sites have been con­sid­ered for the re­place­ment school, in­clud­ing the Yancey tract at the cor­ner of West Quaker Road and Prince Ge­orge Drive and the Buren prop­erty ad­join­ing Scott Memo­rial Park and Bea­z­ley Ele­men­tary. Ear­lier this year, Fort Lee of­fered the county a site on the Army base, which is lo­cated in the county and served by its school sys­tem.

The School Board ini­tially rec­om­mended the Yancey tract, but it was later de­ter­mined that the cost to ex­tend wa­ter and sewer ser­vice to the prop­erty would run around $2 mil­lion, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive pro­posed site to de­velop.

Su­per­vi­sors in Septem­ber voted to sup­port the Mid­dle Road site, which had the low­est es­ti­mated site de­vel­op­ment cost. In ad­di­tion, some su­per­vi­sors sug­gested that the Wal­ton prop­erty — lo­cated a short dis­tance off U.S. Route 460 — might of­fer the county a big­ger ben­e­fit if it were sold for com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

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