The first big, breathtaking moment in the City of Falls Church’s effort to push forward into the 21st century with a new high school and other vital infrastructure improvements came on Tuesday, when the deadline hit at 5 p.m. for the submission by private developers of their initial plans and concepts for the 10 acres at the City-owned West Falls Church property on the northwest corner of W. Broad and Haycock Road.
According to News-Press sources, as of that deadline, approximately a half dozen proposals were submitted. But the City is unwilling to either confirm that or give any details about the submissions, pending the completion of an initial compliance review by the City’s procurement office.
In a communique from the City’s Public Information Officer Susan Finarelli, any information concerning the submissions was not due to be available until around noon Thursday, May 3. The original plan was to provide the initial information to the public by noon Wednesday.
But Finarelli said, “Our purchasing manager is going through each proposal to make sure there are no issues.” But, she added, “Issues have been found, and that/those company/companies have until noon tomorrow to give the City the correction(s).” Until then, she said, “I can’t release the number of proposals received nor the company names.”
One participant who made a submission spoke with the News-Press Wednesday, Ed Novak of Nova-Habitat, an important developer in the City involved in a number of projects to date, is responsible for a senior housing component of a submission made by Republic Properties, which had been a bidder earlier in the process two years ago before an initial approach to the process was abandoned. He said Republic’s bid this time is “more proactive in terms of architecture, site plan flexibility and other features,” and he said he’s optimistic.
The City has bent over backwards in the process to date to be as transparent with the public as possible. According to City manager Wyatt Shields, full redacted versions of each proposal will be posted to the City’s website within two weeks. Only proprietary information will be excluded.
The plan is to “down-select” from the initial group of submissions by mid-June, to provide a more detailed “request for proposals” to the down-selected group by then, and to set October as the deadline for the final selection of an economic development partner.
The process is being worked in tandem with decisions toward the selection of a final developer to build the new George Mason High School on two dozen of the 34 acres at the site. There has already been a “down selection” in that process, with a final choice set to come in late July.
The Campus Coordinating Committee composed of leaders of the City’s government and City Public Schools, plus others, crammed into the School Board’s conference room early last Friday morning to compare notes. At the time, the group was introduced to a number of members of the Schools’ new consulting partners, the firm of Brailsford and Dunlavey, which will serve as the new “owner’s representatives” in the high school construction process.
There, City Manager Wyatt Shields laid out plans to seek a $15.7 million grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for major upgrades to the W. Broad at Haycock Road intersection, making it more pedestrian-friendly and safer for high school and middle school students to navigate.
The upgrades will be required regardless, pending the economic development of 10 acres right there, and the only question will be where the funds will come from.
Shields spearheaded the three-person team that went to Wall Street this Monday to meet with representatives of three bond rating agencies concerning the City’s plans to float $23.1 million in bonds for this year’s first stage of its capital plan that will total $145 million in the next few years.
Shields was accompanied by Falls Church Mayor David Tarter and Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa. “The team shared that the City has been planning these capital investments for years, currently has an available fund balance well above policy goals, has well-funded pensions and other post-employment benefits, and a stable and growing local economy,” Finarelli told the News-Press.
The City expects to hear back from the ratings agencies later this spring, she added.