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Why not put the SHS decision to a vote? page 2
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.
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 11/18/2012

continued

Proponents have yet to offer any evidence that the claimed inadequacies of the current facility could not be remedied through a thorough renovation. For example, the $7 million renovation of Woodbridge High School addressed that facility's dated "open classroom" design, creating a restored building more in keeping with contemporary education practices.

Stafford has retained and reused our old high schools, including the Rowser building, the Stafford School Board offices, and Drew Middle School. Yet demolishing the current Stafford High School, a building estimated to be worth $36 million, is a centerpiece of the plan to build a new facility. Even if a decision were made to build a new Stafford High School on another site, the current building could be used as a career and technical-education center and we would have a place to advance the education of our brightest in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

If we were to renovate, the costs incurred would be significantly less than demolishing and building a new facility. While the School Board has been less than precise in offering cost estimates for renovation (another indicator that renovation has not been thoroughly considered as an option), the range of estimates it has provided are all significantly lower than the $66.1 million (before cost overruns that have come to typify such projects) for a new facility.

Not surprisingly, that estimate does not reflect associated road improvements, replacement of the on-site practice fields, or the value of the auto-tech shop to be eliminated in the rebuild. Combined, these expenses and loss of value can be estimated to approach an additional $10 million.

With scarce resources and the economy still trying to get a firm footing, the lower costs of renovating relative to building an entirely new facility loom particularly large. Stafford's debt capacity is limited. If we demolish Stafford High and build a new facility, our ability to affordably borrow to build a planned sixth high school would be impaired.

The recommendation to demolish and build a new Stafford High was made by a small group who failed to properly abide by our open-meeting laws, let alone conduct or promote an extensive and detailed discussion of the respective pros and cons of renovation versus new construction.

It is now time to add some sunlight to the process and engage the residents who will ultimately have to pay for whatever decision is made. In my view, that is anything but "a bad idea."

Paul Milde represents the Aquia District on the Stafford Board of Supervisors.


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