Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Visioning Report on the High School Expansion Project, the Request for Proposals for that, and other items from the July 7 School Board/City Council Meeting

Last night I and a number of others attended the joint meeting of the School Board and the City Council, each of which then met separately.  I stayed in the School Board meeting.

The joint session focused on the report from the team that talked to stakeholders about the possibilities for expanding the high school and middle school, given the land added to Falls Church as part of the water settlement, and the request for proposals concerning the high and middle school expansion project, especially the timeline.  The intent is to renovate and expand these schools, minimizing costs to the City by commercially developing a part of the site.

The visioning report was much what you would expect.  While there was no consensus about the style of the building, most were comfortable with a 4-6 story building (as opposed to the current one-story high school) in order to have more green space and allow for commercial development.  There was a lot of interest in facilities that could and would be used by the community, such as a pool, larger gym, and theater, but each requires a balancing of costs and benefits.  There was consensus around the need for better access for bikes and walkers, and cars, but getting a new traffic signal on Route 7 will be very difficult.  Last, there was consensus on the use of sustainable design principles, but no consensus on the need for LEED certification – this is a topic for further discussion.

The joint session then turned to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the school expansion project.  The plan is to request ideas and initial plans from the private sector under Virginia’s Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act, which allows private entities to design, renovate, and expand facilities and encourages innovation in financing.  In short, the City and schools would use commercial development of part of the site would allow for school improvement and expansion that the City and schools could not otherwise afford.  I won’t go through all of the details of the discussion of the timeline and RFP, but it involves issuing the RFP this month, having two rounds of proposals, at least one public hearing in April 2016, and informing the selected proposer to proceed in December 2016.  There will be an open meeting to provide further information to the public this Saturday morning.  You can find the full draft RFP here:

Two of the main items were ensuring that that was strong public and stakeholder participation and input, and that the RFP not limit the potential bidders to a predetermined approach.   Council and school board members wanted to go as far as possible in sharing information from the proposals with the public, while understanding that the law will require that certain information be kept confidential to protect the bidders and ensure innovative proposals.   On the point of allowing innovation, the School Board in its later session talked about modifying the RFP to allow proposers the freedom to suggest renovation of George Mason rather than full replacement.  That said, the estimate that the School Board received indicates that renovation would cost about $95 million dollars – in the same ballpark as replacement – but not allow for commercial development to pay for the renovation.$file/GMHS%20Renovation%20Estimate%2006-25-15r%20(2).pdf.

The RFP was to be released in a week on July 15.  If I understood correctly, that has been now moved to July 30 to allow more time to finalize the document.  There would be about a two-week delay in submission of proposals, but was projected to not otherwise affect the overall schedule.

Please let me know if you have any comments or want any more information.

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