A joint committee of Prince William County supervisors and school board members voted Monday to back a $143.2 million plan to add two elementary schools and 30 middle-school classrooms to the school division’s existing 10-year building plan in an effort to rid the county of its portable classroom trailers by 2028.
The six-member group voted 5 to 1 on Oct. 29 to advance the plan as a formal recommendation to a joint meeting of both boards scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27.
Only Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, voted against the recommendation, saying she did not yet have enough information to support it.
The joint committee includes three county supervisors: Anderson and Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge; and three school board members: Lillie Jessie (Occoquan), Gil Trenum (Brentsville) and Loree Williams (Woodbridge).
The group has met for more than a year to devise a plan to add enough new classrooms to nearly eliminate the portable classroom trailers the school division has relied on for decades to mitigate persistent overcrowding. The school division has 206 portable trailers scattered around county schools this year.
The Oct. 29 meeting was the group’s third after a nearly four-month summer break. The committee has worked with a renewed sense of urgency over the last several weeks with the intent of bringing a recommendation to the two boards’ annual joint meeting in November.
The proposal is still months from final approval.
It must be considered by the school board as part of its budget process this spring and would then go to the full Prince William County Board of Supervisors to be approved as part of its five-year budget plan and six-year CIP. The plan would begin impacting the county’s budget in three years, costing $800,000 in 2023. Costs would rise to $12 million annually in 2027 and remain at that level until 2047, according to county staff projections.
Plan targets eastern Prince William
The plan would target the eastern Prince William County, where both elementary and middle-school overcrowding is most acute and where the school division currently lacks sufficient planned new schools to deal with it.
One elementary school would be sited in the north end of the U.S. 1 corridor, while the second would be planned for the southern section, according to Dave Beavers, the school division’s supervisor of planning and financial services.
Thirty middle school classrooms would be added among “five or six” eastern Prince William middle schools. Those schools could include Potomac, Rippon, Woodbridge, Beville or Fred Lynn middle schools, but Beavers said it was not yet known exactly where the classrooms would be added.
The two elementary schools and 30 middle-school classrooms would be added to the 12 new schools and 70 classroom additions already included in the school division’s $1.2 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan.
The plan envisions 900- to 1,000-student elementary schools and 1,464-student middle schools.
The plan is designed only to eliminate the portable classroom trailers, not to reduce class sizes, which has been an aim of both boards for years. Adding enough space to significantly reduce class sizes has been estimated to cost between $500 and $600 million. Both Principi and Superintendent Steven Walts floated such plans about a year ago, but neither of the plans got much traction because of their high price tags.
The first of the new elementary schools would open in 2025, while the second elementary school and the middle-school additions would be timed to open in 2027.
There was some discussion among committee members about pushing the schedule up to reduce the need for trailers faster and, perhaps, to save money on land and construction costs, which will likely only rise with each passing year.
Principi was the strongest proponent of the idea, saying six of seven schools in his district are currently overcapacity need more immediate relief.
“That is a severe problem today and what we’re saying is we can’t open the doors [on a new school] until 2025,” Principi said. “There should be a sense of urgency to this problem and 2025 doesn’t do it…”