One thing I must make perfectly clear: the Board of Supervisors, as with other properties in the past couple of years, have been driving this land selection and acquisition process. They have consistently met with and taken input from the School Board, but in the end and for better or worse this is the other Board's project.
Supervisor Lori Waters wrote a letter to constituents recently describing the land acquisition process and making the BoS role clear. She refers several times in her letter to "the board" (singular) and its process. The School Board meanwhile has made clear that a school is needed in the Route 7 corridor, and that if the BoS acquires land suitable for a school, we'll build and operate a school on that land.
As part of that letter, Ms. Waters iterated her reasons for preferring the NCC site. In addition, she made the following statement (emphasis mine):
A subcommittee formed after budget deliberations back in 2009 to evaluate whether or not additional school seats were needed in the Ashburn area, which ended with needing another elementary, middle, and high school. As part of those meetings, the subcommittee reviewed all the parcels above 5 acres that are available in the Ashburn area that could be considered for county or school facilities. At that time, the Lexington Seven site was on the list; it was reviewed; and it was eliminated by school staff.I want to clarify that "at that time" in 2009, the owners of the Lexington Seven site were offering a small portion of the site, which was too small to support a high school. The entire property now offered would support a high school and this was verified by school staff to the Board of Supervisors prior to Ms. Waters' letter. I want to note at this point that I attended a meeting for homeowners of the neighborhood adjacent to Lexington Seven a few weeks ago, and they were very clear that they vehemently opposed the use of the site for a school. Again, the School Board takes no position on this subject.
On Tuesday June 7th at Belmont Ridge MS, the Board of Supervisors offers a second public meeting to the community to discuss the sites. I'll be there, school planning staff will be there as well to provide helpful information.
All of this discussion is a good opportunity to reflect on a few issues surrounding the purchase of land for schools.
- We've heard a lot in recent years about the public wanting schools built near existing, not future, homes. Yet as we see here, school planned near existing communities brings out just as many objections as those that are at a distance.
- We've heard a lot in recent years about a lack of transparency being a problem with acquiring school sites in Loudoun. Yet while the HS-8 acquisition process has been the most transparent ever it is just as controversial, and has suffered the same accusations of hidden agendas and insufficient information provided to the public.
- We've heard a lot in recent years about the School Board paying too much for land for schools. Yet the HS-8 land purchase, no matter which property is purchased, will dramatically exceed any cost ever negotiated by the school board, whether you calculate the cost as a whole, per acre or per school.
- We've heard a lot in recent years about building schools without athletic fields to save on land costs, yet I haven't heard too many people in the Lansdowne area arguing that the Board of Supervisors should scale back the size of the HS-8 site and forgo those fields.
We just can't not build schools, so we have to work diligently through the issues, seek solutions to the identified challenges, and place reasonable conditions on our schools through the legislative land use process, just as we would with any developer.This is true. In Loudoun County, unlike every other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth, schools are treated as developers and have to go through a lengthy and expensive legislative process before starting construction of a school site. This was pointed out in a 2007 management efficiency study (document, blog post) of LCPS by outside firm (MGT), which recommended changing that process:
According to division staff, the division is currently spending approximately $700,000 in site studies, consultant fees, and staff time per site to attain approvals. If a “by-right” process were approved, the staff estimates the division could realize a savings in site studies of approximately $100,000, consultant fees of $100,000, and staff time of $35,000, or a total per site of approximately $235,000. If the division continues to build three schools per year, this could easily result in a savings of more than $700,000 per year ($235,000 x 3 = $705,000). [Page 5-7]As a matter of fact, this recommendation was the single largest opportunity for savings identified by the study. Just something else to think about.