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Why not put the SHS decision to a vote?
Paul Milde's op-ed column on renovation vs. construction of a new Stafford High School.

 Will Glen Allen High serve as a template for a new Stafford High? Residents may be asked for their vote.
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Date published: 11/18/2012

IN a recent editorial, The Free Lance-Star characterized my position of requiring voter input on building a new Stafford High School instead of renovating the existing facility as "a bad idea" ["SHS restart? No!" Oct. 23]. Disappointingly, the editorial board did not offer a thorough examination of the flawed and incomplete process that is driving the construction of a new facility, and disregarded the more fiscally responsible option of renovating Stafford High.

As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I have a responsibility to protect the interests of the residents I serve. Providing the greatest value for every tax dollar is essential especially when it comes to educational expenditures, as the children who are taught in Stafford public schools deserve to get the most from those dollars. When dollars intended for education are spent on niceties instead of necessities, the public's confidence in education spending is undermined.

Yet despite the necessity of justifying the decision to build a new school instead of renovating, upgrading, and expanding the existing facility, those promoting the destruction and replacement of Stafford High School have offered little beyond their own personal preferences to explain their conclusion. Simply put, they want something "new." And when new-facility proponents are asked for hard, measurable data to support their conclusions, those who ask for such information are pilloried and dismissed as obstructing progress.

It is precisely because of this resistance that I conclude that the only way taxpayers will be told about respective benefits and shortcomings of building new or renovating is to insist that the decision be put to residents in an advisory referendum. Ultimately, the people of Stafford County will have to pay the great difference in cost between renovation and building a new facility. Before becoming obligated to a staggeringly expensive capital-improvement project, it is both reasonable and appropriate for residents to be given an opportunity to weigh in.

Obviously, I believe renovation to be a viable and more cost-effective option for taxpayers and students alike. Culpeper is planning a $20 million renovation, and Prince William County has recently renovated facilities instead of demolishing and building anew. These local governments did so because renovation is invariably more cost-effective.

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