A joint working group made up of Fairfax County supervisors and school board members is exploring the county’s capital needs and creative ways to fund new projects—including opportunities for shared facilities.
The Capital Facilities and Debt Management Working Group was convened by Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova to respond to concerns raised by the school board about increased facilities needs due to a growing student population and aging school buildings.
Members of the group include school board members Sandy Evans (Mason), Patty Reed (Providence), and Kathy Smith (Sully) and supervisors John Cook (Braddock), John Foust (Dranesville), and Jeff McKay (Lee).
In the Mason District, there had been discussions about incorporating classroom space into the Woodrow Wilson Library to help relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. County officials even drew up plans for shared space as part of an ongoing library renovation project but that didn’t happen, in part because of legal impediments.
In the Lee District however, a similar but smaller-scale arrangement was implemented this fall. John Marshall Library provides space to Fairfax County Public Schools for an early literacy program serving Spanish-speaking children and parents in the Rose Hill Elementary School attendance area.
Four and 5-year-old children who do not have access to Head Start or other preschool programs come to the library three mornings a week for learning, arts and crafts, and other activities to prepare them for kindergarten at Rose Hill, said Bonnie Bechert, youth services manager at the library. Their parents come, too, for educational programs in nutrition, discipline, and other parenting topics.
The program had been incorporated into the planning process for the library renovation. “That was a good opportunity for us to cooperate,” said McKay, although he notes that there were some conflicts over parking and other issues.
“We ought to be looking at synergy, not animosity,” McKay said. “We have limited resources, so we need to maximize the use of facilities.” Marshall had a community meeting room that was mainly used in the evening, so it made sense to use that space for the early childhood program in the morning.
“This working group will explore creative solutions to issues which both the Board of Supervisors and School Board have grappled with for the past several years,” Bulova said. “This open dialogue will foster a greater amount of collaboration and meaningful discussion regarding our capital needs challenges.”
The county shares its debt capacity with the school system, and the county also has capital needs, Bulova said. There are limitations to what can be spent annually without harming the county’s triple-A bond rating.
At the working group’s first meeting, April 3, members discussed general issues around debt management in Fairfax County. The working group’s next meeting, scheduled for June 5, is expected to cover the county and FCPS capital improvement programs and the selection process for determining which projects should be funded.