Paying for Mt. Daniel Expansion: It May Not Be All from Debt Financing

F.C. superintendent Toni Jones speaks at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting. (Photo: News-Press)
F.C. superintendent Toni Jones speaks at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting. (Photo: News-Press)

Although City of Falls Church voters will be asked to approve a school bond referendum on the ballot Nov. 4 that authorizes the use of $15.6 million for the expansion of the Mt. Daniel Elementary School, in fact, if it passes, City taxpayers may be responsible for considerably less than that amount.

That’s because the Falls Church City Council is already contemplating using other funds for the school project, in addition to the bonds it will sell if the referendum passes.

At its work session Monday, the Council mulled three options which it will wait until after the election to decide upon. The first is to use the $15.6 million in debt authorized by the referendum to do the project. The second and third include options for using some of the money from the sale of the City’s water system to Fairfax County earlier this year, and from $4.2 million in proffers from developers for projects that are currently underway in the City.

That would mean, in addition to the bargain City taxpayers will gain from the current low interest rate environment, they would not be in for the whole $15.6 million.

The alternative funds include a portion of the $10 million from the sale of the water system not dedicated to shoring up the City’s pension fund, and $4.2 million from the proffers still to come from the developers of the Northgate project on N. Washington St., the Reserve at Tinner Hill project on S. Maple, and the Rushmark project with the Harris Teeter in the 300 block of W. Broad.

Those voluntary concession funds would be available, assuming the projects are completed on time in the spring of 2016, in time to ensure the delivery of the Mt. Daniel expansion in the fall of 2016.

“This approach would allow us to put the developers’ proffers to immediate use to save taxpayers some money,” F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press this week.
Though she is unable by policy to make a formal endorsement for the passage of the upcoming bond referendum in the City of Falls Church, Dr. Toni Jones, Falls Church’s School Superintendent, made a strong case for the needs that passage of the referendum would provide for the Mt. Daniel Elementary School in a presentation before the F.C. Planning Commission Monday night.

The $15.6 million bond referendum would increase the capacity of the school to 792 first and second graders by doubling the number of classrooms from 18 to 36, make it fully ADA compliant, provide more recreational space, provide media, gym, cafeteria, art, music, day care and specialty rooms to accommodate the recent years’ record growth of enrollment.
The expansion would also impact the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School by freeing up space there by moving the second grade back to Mt. Daniel. By “going vertical” at the Mt. Daniel site, playground spaces are gained and parking is expanded.

The goals of the project are to have a safe and accessible school system from kindergarten through 12th grade, to handle moving the second grade back to Mt. Daniel, and to be prepared for growth of the system for the next 20 years. The project, itself, will have a life of 50 years.

Dr. Jones noted that enrollment growth continues apace, and that, overall, the system has absorbed a doubling of its student enrollment from 1,215 in 1991 to 2,495 in 2015.

Another public forum on the pros and cons of the referendum is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the American Legion Hall on N. Oak St.