As F.C.’s Biggest Borrowing Ever Gets Underway, It Scores a Low 3.09% Rate

FALLS CHURCH waste water engineer Jason Widstrom points to gravity flow issues on the 34-acre West End school and economic development site at the meeting of the Campus Coordinating Committee last week. (Photo: News-Press)

The biggest municipal bond sale, by far, in the history of the City of Falls Church to fund a new high school and improvements at City Hall and the library got underway last week, and the results in terms of their cost did not disappoint.

All eyes — at least those of City Manager Wyatt Shields, Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa and consultants from the Davenport Company — in the less-than-luxury executive suites at Falls Church’s temporary City Hall digs on N. Washington Street were focused on a website where the news came through of the top bidder on $23.45 million in City of Falls Church municipal bonds that went up for sale late last week. The sale will be followed by one for $73 million next year, and $53 million the year after that for a total of $149.45 million.

Given the City’s new “triple-triple A” rating from all three Wall Street bond rating agencies announced earlier this month, the high expectations for a good deal at the City’s first of three bond sales came out quite well.

Indeed, a robust number of 10 bids were received, and the Falls Church team chose to go with Citi, the low bidder at a 3.09 percent “true” interest rate. The closing on the deal will come soon and hence the City’s ambitious capital improvement efforts will proceed apace, even if some initial estimates are that costs for the Mary Riley Styles library renovation will come in higher than expected.

Meanwhile, at this Monday’s annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade and Festival, the usual 12,000-plus crowd was exposed to the first significant change to the facade of the F.C. City Hall, cordoned off by barriers as some big changes are about taking place. Next week, the steel supports for the new Council chambers and second level open space will be rising out of the ground.

So far, all is going according to plan and some unexpected finds, like the many tires found stored there and a large fuel oil canister, have not interrupted the work.

City Manager Shields told the News-Press this week that the City Hall staff who’ve moved into cramped temporary quarters have made the necessary adjustments and remain busy “doing the people’s work.”

With its latest meeting last Friday morning at the School Board offices, the Campus Coordinating Committee, composed of those mostly focused on the new George Mason High School project and those mostly focused on the 10 acres of economic development, mulled the virtues of coordinating their efforts, especially underground, where the flow of waste and stormwater would be best handled in such a manner.

Jason Widstrom, the City’s sewer chief, discussed the issues of gravity flow versus pumps on the whole 34 acres, and insights from a panel organized by the City’s Economic Sustainability Council in the library of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School last Thursday pertaining to stormwater runoff and its creative uses for the long-term environmental and even aesthetic benefits of the property were included.

The panel discussion was composed of two parts, “Green Infrastructure’ and Sustainable Stormwater Capture,” and “Opportunities for Sustainable Energy Infrastructure.” Maureen Holman, sustainability chief of D.C. Water, Robert Goo, environmental protection specialist for the U.S. EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, Mark Bailey, senior business development manager of the WGL Energy Systems, and Bill Updike, principal of the Integral Group were the panelists and they were in general agreement on the key issues.

The main takeaway was the fact that, in the future, there is greater risk in not going green than anything else. They advocated a “performance-based procurement” process where the winning bid goes to whomever can come the closest to project goals. They lauded the City’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050.

“Net Zero” energy buildings with zero carbon emissions are the future, and by comparison, the LEED system, a form of counting aspects of environmental components, is no longer the norm, they said.