Fairfax City Plans School Bonds on November Ballot

Fairfax City Plans School Bonds on November Ballot

For Daniels Run, Providence renovations, new high-school roof.

Daniels Run Elementary School

Daniels Run Elementary School

Whether it’s a house or a public building, chances are – by the time it’s almost 70 years old – it’s going to require some repairs and renovations, even if it’s had some earlier. The same holds true for schools. 

Fairfax City’s elementary schools, Providence and Daniels Run, were built 68 and 69 years ago, respectively, and are now in great need of major renovations. In addition, Fairfax High’s roof is nearing the end of its operational life and needs to be replaced sooner than later.

So at its meeting last Tuesday, June 11, Fairfax City Council approved introducing an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $220 million in general-obligation school bonds to renovate the two elementaries and give the high school a new roof. Some $177 million would be for Providence and Daniels Run, with $43 million earmarked for the roof – and the total includes financing costs.

These capital-improvement projects have long been on the City’s radar. And last week, Fairfax’s Chief Financial Officer J.C. Martinez, told the Councilmembers, “This has been an ongoing effort for the past three years. Tonight, we need guidance regarding if you want to just do the two elementary schools or add in the high-school roof.”

Councilmember Jon Stehle then asked City Schools Superintendent Jeff Platenberg to come to the podium and provide further information. “When I first came here in July 2022, Council had requested a schools’ assessment,” said Platenberg. “We put together a team and developed an RFP [request for proposals] and ended up with Moseley Architects.”

He said the team also looked at the schools’ operational costs in terms of their plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems and whether they were capable of meeting future needs. “The elementary schools were renovated in 2001, but they were designed to the standards of three years before that,” he explained. “And when we looked at today’s costs to renovate them, it really was a sticker shock.”

Daniels Run and Providence are each 100,000-square-foot buildings. And besides the actual “hard costs” of construction materials, said Platenberg, “You have to add in ‘soft costs,’ including learning cottages [trailers] to hold the students while their buildings are being worked on.”

He said the team looked at renovating both schools concurrently or staggering these projects, and “there was a big difference. When you figure in escalation in the costs of the construction materials, plus inflation, the further out you go [timewise], the higher the price tag.” Therefore, it’s cheaper to renovate both elementaries at the same time.

Stehle then said, “We need to move forward with the bond and put it out there to the voters. And the sooner we do the work, the less it’ll cost.”

“Design standards, and the teaching and learning spaces, have changed greatly since these schools were designed,” said Platenberg. “And having modern schools will help us attract and retain teachers.”

A week earlier, on June 3, the City School Board held its own meeting on this matter and approved requesting City Council to authorize a bond issue for $177 to just cover the two elementary schools. But at the June 11 Council meeting, Fairfax High’s roof was also being considered for inclusion into the bond issue.

“The high-school roof is still under warranty until 2030 or ’31, so why are we considering adding it back in?” asked Councilmember Greenfield.

“We have eight years from the time the bond is issued to do [the work],” replied Platenberg. “So around 2032 is when the roof will need to be done.”

Greenfield suggested they put together a bond-advisory task force “to let the residents know why the bond is needed and what it would mean to their real-estate tax rate.”

But Councilmember Tom Ross stressed that “This is a critical need we have to move forward on. There’s a tremendous amount of variables. Also, having a 1-percent sales tax would help us provide revenue for this.”

Regardless of the outcome of the bond referendum, the City plans to investigate filing an application with the Commonwealth for a “Local Option Sales Tax” of 1 percent for the purpose of financing school capital projects.

“I support putting the referendum forward,” said Councilmember Kate Doyle Feingold. “We also need engagement with the teachers and staff to make sure we’re addressing their needs.”

Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read weighed in, as well. “The high-school roof leaks, and the leaks aren’t going to get better on their own,” she said. Furthermore, she added, “They might worsen in the next three or four years and may need to be done sooner.”

Platenberg said seeking a bond issue of $220 million “gives us more options and decreases the financial impacts down the road. And it saves taxpayer money, as well.”

Stehle then made a motion to move forward with the $220 million bond referendum and Ross seconded. The motion passed unanimously. As for the next steps, prior to City Council’s next meeting, June 25, the School Board will have to adopt its own, revised bond resolution that includes the high-school roof and changes its official request to a bond issue of $220 million, instead of $177 million.

Then on June 25, City Council will hold a public hearing and take action to go forward with the bond issue. After doing so, Fairfax City will then formally ask Fairfax County Circuit Court to order that this bond referendum be held at the same time as the Nov. 5 general election. 

And before the residents vote on it, they’ll receive a printed explanation of the referendum. It’ll tell them why the money is needed and what it’ll be used for, and they’ll be given this information on election day.