Albemarle Schools present $318 million capital request

Albemarle County Public Schools want to build two new elementary schools and buy land for a third as part of a $318 million five-year request to the Board of Supervisors. 

The two bodies met in a long range planning work session Wednesday to discuss how to pay for school infrastructure needs. The goal was to give the School Board an opportunity to explain specifically what they need and to strategize for how to pay for it. Andy Bowman, the chief of the county’s Office of Management and Budget, was clear to state what the meeting was not. (view the presentation)

“This isn’t a budget discussion,” Bowman said. “We’ll hold those in February, March, and so on. So while we’ll have some numbers and charts and graphs today that I’ll be sharing, it’s not going to feel as much of a budget work session as it will be in a few months from now.” 

For many years, Albemarle has used a five-year planning model for operational and capital budgets. However, the declaration of an emergency for COVID in March 2020 caused Albemarle and other localities in Virginia to take a different approach. 

“Many projects at that time, due to the uncertainty in the economy and the county’s inability to access the financial markets, we paused those and came up with a plan to reevaluate that in three and six month increments to make sure we were being agile in responding to situations as they changed,” Bowman said. 

That meant the five-year capital improvement program was not updated for fiscal year 22. Instead, Bowman said $34 million worth of projects were unpaused in January 2021. A five-year plan was adopted for the current fiscal year. 

“We have the adopted CIP totalling $298 million,” Bowman said. “That’s $153 million for the public schools, $117 million for county government, and there’s a unique placeholder of $27 million related to strategic plan implementation.” 

One of the slides from the presentation documents how the capital budget cycle was affected by the pandemic (Credit: Albemarle County) 

Supervisors adopted a new strategic plan in October and set aside that funding. The current five-year plan anticipates no increase in the real property tax rate over the period. 

The county has also altered its long-term position by restructuring its debt. Bowman said refinancing in June 2021 and March 2022 reduced the payments on debt service. His office now reports to the Chief Finance Officer rather than the County Executive. It’s all part of a “fresh look” at the way the county does business. 

“We’ve also made investments in our procurement office and we’ve looked in partnership with our schools about how we manage our capital projects with building services and facility planning and construction with the intent to improve the execution and service delivery to our residents,” Bowman said. 

Another change coming into the next budget cycle is that Supervisors increased the food and beverage tax, the transient occupancy tax, and the cigarette tax. Bowman said that equals the equivalent of a 3.3 cent increase in the property tax rate. 

Turning to the next five-year plan, Bowman said rising interest rates could mean less return for the issuance of bonds. 

“In our adopted CIP, $1 million of debt service that we pay annual for example over 20 years of a life of a bond, that would buy $13.1 million worth of projects,” Bowman said. 

However, Bowman said that the lease-revenue bonds the county usually issues would yield only $11.8 million worth of projects. He said an alternative would be to hold a referendum on general obligation bonds. 

“The county would be able to get a better rate of about a quarter percent based on [word] financial advisors, and that would stretch that dollar a little farther, and that would stretch that dollar a little farther and $1 million of debt service would then buy $12.1 million of projects,” Bowman said. 

Bowman also said the county is seeking to time the sale of bonds to be as close to project delivery as possible. 

Albemarle Schools have a request for $318 million for the next five years. Bowman said that would currently mean the need to find $182 million in new revenue taking into account inflation. 

The $318 million funding request from the ACPS for FY24-FY29 (Credit: Albemarle County)

Maya Kumazawa is the Director of Budget and Planning for Albemarle County Public Schools. She began her presentation with a statement on the importance of physical spaces for education.

“An adequate built environment is a critical resource to foster high quality teaching and learning,” Kumazawa said. “As our county continues to grow, several schools are out of space and several schools are aging. Investments are needed to support our students.” 

The enrollment for the 2022 academic year is 13,585, down from a peak of 14,032 in 2019 due to the pandemic. Projections are derived from historical trends and data from the pipeline of new housing construction developed by Albemarle’s Office of Community Development. The current projection shows an increase to 14,986 over the next ten years. 

As the buildings get more crowded, they are aging as well. 

“Our newest schools were built more than 20 years ago and our oldest schools were built more than 80 years ago,” Kumazawa said. 

The first school that ACPS would like to build would be an elementary one for 500 students in the southern part of the county to alleviate capacity issues at Mountain View Elementary. If approved, this 72,500 square foot structure would be designed in FY2024 and constructed in FY25.

“This would cost about $44 million and the school would be open to students in the fall of 2026,” Kumazawa said. 

There are currently 690 students enrolled at Mountain View, and Kumazawa said there will be a need for more school space.

“There are currently about 2,400 approved residential units in the pipeline, including Southwood Phase 2,” Kumazawa said. 

The second project would be an elementary school in the northern feeder pattern.  

“There’s a similar story at Baker-Butler Elementary with growing enrollment at an already large school,” Kumazawa said. “As you are aware, the U.S. 29 North corridor is our most dense and quickly growing development area and there are over 8,000 residential units in the pipeline.” 

This school would be built in time to open for the fall of 2029 at an estimate of $50 million. 

Like the Board of Supervisors, Albemarle County Public Schools has a strategic plan. Kumazawa compared the two in her presentation. (Credit: Albemarle County) 

Kumazawa said the school also wants to conduct a redistricting study and conduct a limited redistricting to help balance overcrowding. 

The five-year request also includes additional funding for renovations for existing schools. The current CIP only anticipates $2 million a year for high school renovations, but the school system’s request calls for a total of $34.6 million. At Albemarle High School this would include creation of collaboration areas, corridor and classroom improvements, and circulation improvements to make disabled individuals move around.

“At Western Albemarle, the prioritized projects include corridor improvements, outdoor learning spaces, commons improvements, window upgrades, and athletic wing commons,” Kumazawa said. 

The request also includes projects to implement the Lambs Lane Study intended to make the area around Albemarle High School, Journey Middle School and Greer Elementary into more of a place. This would include construction of a new field house, a new loop road from Lambs Lane to Hydraulic Road, and landscaping. 

Read the presentation for the details and for the rest of the projects.

And in the next installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, we’ll hear what Supervisors and School Board members had to say. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 9, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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