Thursday, November 18, 2010
Officials request $15 million for BHS
Requests in Riner will wait for governor approval, while Blacksburg hopes to purchase high school site.
Montgomery County school officials on Tuesday authorized Superintendent Brenda Blackburn to apply for $15 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds to fund a new high school.
The money, approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell and authorized through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is expected to be awarded by the year's end.
The state has $229.5 million left to allocate, and the governor has the authority to choose some projects based on their emergency situation. School officials are hoping that will be the case with Blacksburg.
The decision was 4-3, with board members Jamie Bond, Penny Franklin and Drema Foster dissenting. Each of them favored applying for the money to fund school projects in Riner.
Board members could have applied for $5 million in three applications to fund all three of their pressing capital needs -- a new BHS, a new Auburn High and renovations to AHS for a new middle school.
Originally, Blackburn wanted to apply for the maximum for each, but guidance from the Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday indicated that each division could only apply for a $15 million maximum.
Chairman Wendell Jones said he thought the BHS project had the greatest chance of being funded because state officials already are aware of the need, and because it's an emergency.
"For years and years and years we have had the overcrowding and the bad conditions in that [Auburn] middle school that we have said would be next," she said.
The money is awarded based on a points scale, with criteria such as alleviating overcrowding and replacing aged buildings getting higher point values. Also, because the school system received the bonds in previous years to fund Price's Fork Elementary School and Eastern Montgomery Elementary School, the likelihood of receiving the money could diminish.
On Monday, Jones was among officials who met with legislators who agreed they'd support an effort to get as much as $45 million -- $15 million for each project.
Officials expect to send a separate letter to McDonnell outlining their emergency needs after the Feb. 13 collapse of the BHS gym, and the overcrowding in Auburn.
That application will go forward before county supervisors act on a plan to fund the three construction projects.
Last week, Supervisor Jim Politis outlined a proposal to get unused school properties -- including the old Blacksburg Middle School and the current BHS -- ready to be sold. That money, in turn, could keep tax increases lower and still finance the needed school projects.
In response to that, the town of Blacksburg plans to approve its own resolution of support.
On Tuesday, Mayor Ron Rordam sent a letter to supervisors, Blackburn and Jones driving home the town's desires to zone the OBMS site as mixed use, and saying that allowing the town to purchase the high school property on Patrick Henry Drive was a viable option. If so, the town would use it to expand park space, according to the letter.
"Given the character of the neighborhood, it is unlikely that a rezoning to a higher residential density or to a more intensive commercial or office use would be approved," Rordam wrote.
Politis has said he would not vote for his own plan unless all government bodies -- Blacksburg, the school board and supervisors -- agreed to work together.