Montgomery County considers new idea for Blacksburg school situation

October 26, 2010

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Chris Lloyd of the McGuireWoods Consulting Infrastructure and Economic Development team was quoted in The Roanoke Times.  The full article and a copy of the presentation are below.


Katelyn Polantz | The Roanoke Times  

CHRISTIANSBURG — A consulting firm has offered a new idea to help Montgomery County dig out of the Blacksburg High School mess and dive into repairs or new construction quickly.

Christopher Lloyd, a senior vice president at McGuire Woods Consulting, suggested Monday to the county Board of Supervisors that it consider a public-private partnership method to plan and construct the project.

The partnership approach acts like an open invitation for private organizations to dream up innovative plans and submit them to the county.

Outlined in Virginia’s Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act of 2002, or PPEA, it is an alternative to the government’s traditional design-bid-build process for completing projects. The process often expedites design and construction.

If a new high school would take three years to build with the design-bid-build approach, as school officials have suggested, the PPEA process could cut six to 18 months from that time, Lloyd said.

“You at least need to have some common vision for the project” between the school’s board and supervsiors for a partnership process to work well, Lloyd said.

The county’s school board and private groups would negotiate a master contract with many contractors as the project progresses.

Still, a public-private partnership would not solve the funding problems that stall the county’s decision-making.

The county board and school officials barely have moved forward in deciding on Blacksburg High School since its gym collapsed more than eight months ago.

The school board first asked the supervisors for $125 million to build two new high schools, in Blacksburg and in Riner, and to renovate the current Auburn High School into a middle school.

The board of supervisors eluded that proposal and asked the school board to repair the structurally unsound Blacksburg High instead.

Neither board has made a decision since September.

Officials have considered various repair costs, with recent estimates at about $19 million or more, according to school officials.

A new Blacksburg high school would cost the county $57 million, school officials estimate.

The public-private partnership approach may or may not cut proposed construction costs, Lloyd said.

Montgomery County officials must first adopt guidelines to pursue the partnership method. School board administrators are drafting these now, said county administrators.

If given the go-ahead, private organizations could submit plans to the school board immediately, Lloyd said.

Plans typically come in from both unsolicited organizations and from groups the county asks for help.

For months, county residents have flocked to county meetings and bombarded officials with their requests.

Blacksburg parents, the most vocal group, say they fear sending their children into a repaired high school. They have asked for a new school.
Auburn parents, who have waited years for a new building to replace their 72-year-old high school, remind the board of their needs.

A few others have warned county officials that they can’t afford a tax increase.

The school board’s $125 million proposal would require the county to issue bonds and back them with a property tax increase of 12.5 cent per $100 assessed value, or 17 percent. The hike would increase taxes $225 dollars annually for a $180,000 home.

More than a dozen county residents addressed the board Monday night.

Many asked the board to keep an open mind regarding Blacksburg High, and to consider the PPEA approach.

“You have the power right now to make a positive difference for many children in Montgomery County,” resident Jennifer Fenrich told supervisors during Monday’s meeting. “It’s going to take hard work, and it’s not going to be easy.”

Both the board of directors of Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a high-tech business park in Blacksburg, and the Blacksburg Partnership, an economic development group, sent letters to the county supervisors asking that they work together with their school board and constituents, and fully weigh the options and consequences to any decisions they may make.