Local Commentary

Editorial: 3 Moving Parts Of New School

There remain three major moving parts as all hands are on deck to commandeer a successful outcome for development of the 36-acre high school campus property.

We remain, as we have since Day One of this newspaper almost 26 years ago, hopeful of and committed to outcomes that will be optimum for the quality public education of all the youth under the City’s care.

To this end, with respect to the current project, we are becoming more optimistic that sound-minded City Council, School Board and their respective administrations will craft a path forward to bring a willing community along to pass the coming November bond referendum. It requires resolve. There is no need for any undue delays. If tight schedules are followed, the requisite work can all be achieved in time for referendum language to be submitted to the courts by late July.

The citizens of Falls Church have never failed to support bond referenda reasonably and thoughtfully created. There is little doubt that a preponderance of voting citizens in this community support quality public education, and in this case, there is a compelling argument for dedicating the tax resources for an all-new high school to be built in a single stage that would be completed by 2021.

But at this stage, the voting public needs to see an open and reasoned deliberation among all the parties involved to strike the proper balance between the three principal factors remaining in play.

The three factors are, as Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller reiterated to the School Board Tuesday night, these: 1. commitment to single-stage construction of a new high school with a capacity expandable to 1,500 students, 2. achieved at a reasonable cost to taxpayers by including limiting its size to essentials, and 3. with provision for optimal economic development of up to 10 acres of the site to benefit the community but also to significantly mitigate the cost of the new school to taxpayers.

When Schiller came up with a dramatic alternative last week to cut the new school cost from $117 million to $60 million, we perceived a marked favorable shift in public response to the whole idea. While going all the way with Schiller’s plan may not be the best approach entirely, it makes its point. A public commitment to seriously shave costs adds to the likelihood of public support, given we’re talking serious money here.

So does the commitment to economic development. If there’s a perceived serious commitment to mitigate taxpayers costs that way, then taxpayers are more likely to weigh in with their fair share.

So far, some of the biggest obstacles are related to athletic programs. In one case, proponents of competitive sports want to add to the cost with as many as three new gyms. In the other, economic development potentials may be constrained by putting the athletic fields off limits. But it would be tragic if insisting on these caused the overall effort to fail.