Local Commentary

Editorial: GMHS Estimate Must Include Commercial $

In the calculations being done by the Campus Process Working Group assigned by both the Falls Church City Council and School Board to work through parameters that will ultimately confront the City, its boards and staff and the public in a referendum next fall, so far highly conservative estimates have been used.

It means that costs for a new high school, for example, will be at the high end of what may actually be the case. For example, the sale of 10.5 acres of the City’s land for commercial development is being estimated to bring $30 million, even though it was actually calculated by professionals at closer to $40 million.

Hog tying the City with such a low-ball estimate doesn’t help the chances of deciding in favor of the kind of quality new facility that would keep the school system at its present level of superiority.

In addition, the working estimates do not include any potential tax and other revenue returns from the development that might go onto the sold commercial property.

This is another shot in the foot to the level of school construction the City needs, raising the cost to taxpayers who will have to decide if they want to spend so much money come next fall.

It is been our contention all along going for the “highest and best use” of the commercial component of the land that will be key to everything else, and that at least one Falls Church-based developer, Todd Hitt of Kiddar, is on record saying that by combining the City’s 10.5 acres with WMATA’s 36 at the West Falls Church acre site, and perhaps some others, a phenomenal new development that could rival the Mosaic in Merrifield could result.

This would lower the cost to taxpayers by a remarkable degree for a new state of the art high school, with a capacity for enrollment growth for at least the next decade.

The taxpayers of Falls Church need a new high school, because the assessed value of their residential real estate is a function of the public perception of the quality of the school system. Start shortchanging the schools, and a commensurate decline in property values will follow.

The “win-win” solution is found in maintaining the best schools anywhere, and for Falls Church, at least for the last 15 years or so, it has been new mixed use development that has keyed the City’s ability to fund that maintained excellence.

So it needs to be with the new high school. We simply cannot X-out anything related to the potential mixed use or commercial development of the 10.5 acres on the school site and expect to come up with numbers that the taxpayers can support.

Now, new interim superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller is proposing consideration of a K-16, not K-12, approach to education, which clearly would bring the Northern Virginia Graduate Center next to the high school site into play, as well.