Schools in Stafford County are planned to be built, rebuilt and renovated through the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) process. There is much discussion right now throughout the county on what is needed in terms of new schools or rebuilding schools.
The CIP is a developed jointly by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. It contains not only capital projects for the school division, but it also is the capital plan for county facilities. Projects include new county administration facilities, new and improvements to county parks, and improved or new transportation facilities. Currently the county’s largest identified project is a new courthouse. The courthouse currently located at the corner of Route 1 and Courthouse Road is reaching, and many would say is already beyond, capacity. Judges have been advocating for a new, larger courthouse to house the activity.
A new courthouse has been discussed for the past couple of years and the cost to build a new courthouse have ranged from $35 million to $70 million.
The CIP projects are financed long term through the sale of government bonds. Each year the Board of Supervisors adopts a CIP concurrent with adoption of the budget. While the county budget doesn’t outlay dollars for CIP projects, as the debt from the sale of bonds is incurred the debt payments are contained with the budget and are commonly referred to as “debt service”.
The school division continuously examines their student enrollment and capacity at all of the schools within the county.
Over the last six months the Board of Supervisors and School Board have been working on a new process to score, prioritize and put projects on the CIP. During the process in the Fall of 2017 an additional elementary school was identified as a need and was recommended to a joint committee of members of both boards to include Elementary School #18 on the CIP. This, along with a new courthouse and a previously identified need for an additional high school caused other projects to be pushed back.beyond the debt capacity and 10 year outlook of the CIP. One of the projects included in the list that was pushed back is a rebuild of Ferry Farm Elementary School.
Originally built in 1957 Ferry Farm has been on the CIP for either a renovation or rebuild over the last 10 years. With the threat of a large development known as Sherwood Farm on Route 3 the Board of Supervisors and School Board began to prepare for the project that could bring as many as 135 already approved new homes to the Ferry Farm Elementary School attendance zone, by planning for a rebuild of the school. The plan called for a school with a capacity of 950 students, 220 more than the current school, to be built on the property where the school currently sits. The rebuild plan would allow for the current school to continue to be used while the new building was built adjacent to the current one. However, the Sherwood Farm project faced a number of hurdles, was never built and does not appear to ever be built. The need for increased elementary school capacity has greatly reduced for the Ferry Farm Elementary School. The current student population at Ferry Farm is 660 and the school has current capacity of 729. The school has also been discussed to be renovated, much as nearby schools Grafton Village Elementary and Falmouth Elementary were in 2011 and 2013.
With the moving target of rebuilding or renovating Ferry Farm it has not received a permanent spot on the county’s CIP. With other priorities driven by school capacity and the need for additional seats for elementary and high school students in other areas of the county, Ferry Farm Elementary rebuild or renovation was not recommend in the latest round of CIP projects. That frustrated George Washington District School Board Member Dewayne McOsker. Over the last year McOsker has been advocating for Ferry Farm rebuild or renovation to be included on the CIP.
In 2017 the Board of Supervisors and School Board adopted a CIP that included a “wedge” that included a slew of projects including Ferry Farm rebuilt. Those projects were examined, scored and prioritized by the Joint CIP process and Ferry Farm was prioritize below a new elementary school, new high school and new courthouse. With those three projects the debt capacity of the county would not support renovation or rebuild of Ferry Farm Elementary School.
McOsker has continued to speak out for the need to rebuild Ferry Farm Elementary School. On March 7 he held a town hall meeting focused on the “Ferry Farm Elementary School Rebuild.”
However, the support from the Board of Supervisors and even the School Board may not be there for a full rebuild of Ferry Farm Elementary. The question will become how much support and how much debt capacity is available to support a thorough renovation of the school?