An extra $85,000 was removed from a budget supplemental by the Falls Church City Council Tuesday night when it was reported that, despite the urging in the last weeks from Council member Dan Sze, the new Mt. Daniel Elementary School construction project already in its preliminary stages will not be crafted to meet so-called “LEED Silver” environmental certification standards.
This was what Sze reported following a four-hour conference call between himself, F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Tony Jones and the schools’ construction contractors last Friday. It was argued in that meeting, Sze reported, that the Schools’ priority of having the new expanded elementary school open in time for the beginning of the Fall 2016 school year took priority over the LEED certification, which at this point would significantly slow down the completion of the project.
While everyone who spoke out on the City Council expressed disappointment at the situation, it was Council member Marybeth Connelly who reminded her colleagues that the Council failed to take the opportunity to stipulate a LEED certification for the project last December when the additional $85,000 required for it was not provided in their budget deliberations.
“Poor communication” back then was then cited as a causal factor in the current predicament, which includes the fact that the Schools have a lot of autonomy on such decisions, as the Council can only appropriate money to the schools, but not dictate the use of those funds.
Sze cited that one of the most important features of a LEED standing is its “third party certification” component, assuring the required environmentally-friendly components of the project are met.
On May 18, Sze and Dr. Jones clashed at a City Council work session when Sze first expressed outrage that the Mt. Daniel project would not meet LEED standards. Jones said then that the education of children is more important than a plaque, insisting that introducing a LEED standard would delay the project past the target of September 2016.
A great effort has been put into getting the project done in the short window for construction while keeping the educational process intact. Preparatory work is already underway even as classes are still being held in order to “hit the ground running” once school lets out for the summer.
In his report, Sze said, “I was not able to convince any of those on the conference call that it (LEED certification) was the right thing to do, that it was still achievable. There were multiple reasons why it could not be done.”
Sze said that LEED certification would have provided energy modeling, compelled testing of all the systems to ensure that they would perform to the standards defined by the modeling, given that “it is common knowledge that 15 percent of sensors and controls need to be replaced during commissioning,” and “lastly, yes, it would have given us a plaque on the wall.”
Councilman Nader Baroukh said “It is a moral obligation we have” to provide environmental standards for City building, and “I am deeply disappointed” that this cannot be done for Mt. Daniel.
City Attorney Carol McCoskrie reminded the Council of the “little authority” is has under state law in telling the Schools what to do “beyond appropriating the money.”
Councilman Connelly said “We did not act last December to add on the $85,000 for LEED. It is our fault, we cannot lay this on the School Board.”
School Board member Kieran Sharpe rose to speak about what he called as the “uncertainties then about how the budget could be formulated” that included “a lack of communication” between the Council and School Board. “It is unfortunate that it was left in limbo for so long.” He suggested that some form of “memorandum of understanding” be used in the future.
“I hope we will get on the same page going forward with our plans for the high school and middle school,” said Councilman Phil Duncan. “It is remarkable to not be in a better place by now.”