MILFORD – What if voters don’t want Caroline County to go $25 million further into debt to pay for two school building projects? That was the question the Board of Supervisors asked the School Board.
The supervisors met with members of the School Board and school officials during the regular Board of Supervisors session on Tuesday night. They discussed the School Board’s request that the supervisors set a $25 million bond referendum for projects to expand and renovate Caroline High School and Madison Elementary School.
“I support this wholeheartedly,” said Supervisor Calvin Taylor. “I don’t believe the schools in the county will be able to function without this referendum.”
The supervisors did not take a formal vote, but Supervisor Floyd Thomas, chairman of the board, said the county’s attorney would begin the process of drawing up the necessary legal documents to put the referendum on the November ballot, a process he indicated would take about three months.
Thomas also directed Fran Hatcher, the county’s finance director, to determine how much the debt service would cost for the school bond issue and what the equivalent impact would be on the real estate tax rate.
Members of both boards indicated they have their work cut out for them to persuade voters to support a bond referendum.
School Board chairman Nancy Carson said members of the panel would be willing to reach out to constituents of the supervisors to help promote the bond issue.
“Any of the School Board members would be glad to do a selling job with your constituents,” she said.
“We all will have to do this,” said Thomas.
“Our goal is to make our school system better than Fairfax — to be one of the best school systems in the state,” added Thomas.
Superintendent Greg Killough gave the supervisors a detailed briefing on tentative plans for the two school projects. Expanding and renovating the high school would cost an estimated $21 million while expanding and modifying the elementary school would cost about $4 million.
When Killough was done, two supervisors, Jeff Black, and Reggie Underwood, wanted to know what the school division would do if voters reject the bond referendum.
“If the referendum fails, what options do you have?” asked Black.
“Is there a plan B?” asked Underwood. “If this gets voted down, where do we go?”
There is no alternative, indicated Killough. “I don’t know where we would go for money,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do, but we’ve got to do something,” Killough said. “We’re at a crossroads.”
If the county does not more forward and expand and renovate the high school as one project and instead does it piecemeal over a period of years, it would cost about $3 million more, said Killough.
Caroline High was built in the mid-1970s when no one could have known the electrical load that new technology would require, noted Killough. “We would have to redress the electrical system” if the referendum fails, Killough said. “That building is stressed. It was not designed for all the technology. The science labs need to be upgraded.”
The high school’s science labs are antiquated, said School Board member Tinka Harris, who noted that a new high school would cost about $70 million.
The high school has moved into a new post-season conference, effective next year, that includes ultra-modern schools such as Hanover High School, said School Board member George Spaulding. Caroline needs adequate facilities in order to host other schools and their players and fans, he suggested.
In addition, Caroline’s school enrollment is growing. Enrollment was at 4,222 in the fall of 2012. It is projected to reach 4,529 by 2016 and 4,846 by 2022, said Killough.
The high school project would include an addition and renovations for 12 classrooms, four vocational labs, a new library, new administration and guidance counselor offices, entrance, and new gymnasium to seat 2,500. Improvements would include a new roof, HVAC systems, bathrooms and lockers, electrical and lighting upgrades, intercom system and security camera system, science labs, cafeteria kitchen, athletic track, and stadium bleachers.
The project at Madison Elementary School would add four classrooms to eliminate trailers plus a new gym. Modifications would include a new entrance, bathrooms, and conversion of the multi-purpose room into a new library. The school also needs more paved parking.