With the coming tough choices facing the City of Falls Church on its need for a new high school, it is of paramount importance to keep the eye on the ball, and not be diverted by secondary, special or selfish issues and interests. We must be focused like a laser beam.
The reason is obvious. Voters this November will be asked to approve the largest bond referendum in the City’s history, regardless of the price tag that winds up being attached to it. Winning that voter approval, while at the same time seeking the best educational facility required to meet the core needs of our students, is the goal.
There are three moving parts here. First, winning the support of the voters. Second, focusing the new construction effort on core educational needs. Third, finding new revenues to mitigate the cost to taxpayers through optimizing economic development on the 36-acre campus site in question.
The good news is that there is solid support in the community for all three of these components. Especially useful has been the robust demonstration of commitment to the “highest and best use” of the economic component exhibited by the newly-formed Campus Economic Development Task Force.
If the development community becomes convinced that the City really wants something that is going to be a blockbuster, from the standpoint of density and revenue yield for the next 50 years, then there should be a serious response. We know there are developers out there in near orbit to the City looking for just this sort of thing.
If the voting public can see the City and Schools making a determined effort to get those offsetting revenues, on the one hand, and to hold the construction project to core needs for quality education, and not superfluous ones, then we’re confident the project will enjoy a level of support to make passage of a referendum possible.
In short, if the cost to taxpayers of the new school is over $100 million, then in our opinion it will, and should, fail. On the other hand, if the combination of promising economic development and avoidance of superfluous components for the new school can be demonstrated to bring the cost down to, say, under $70 million, then we’re confident it will pass.
In this context, it is, to us, not helpful for the City Council to ask for a three-cent set-aside for the project in the current budget. It will only cause dissension in the ranks, so to speak, making the public potentially an adversarial player whose concerns will zero in on making sure the project cost stays low. You don’t want that.
You want a happy voting public eager to join in the process of delivering a first rate high school at the most economical cost. Don’t forcibly commit them to it with a tax hike before they’ve been invited to join in the effort voluntarily.