CHRISTIANSBURG — The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors last week approved a bond issue of up to $90 million, most of which is for the long-planned renovation and expansion of Christiansburg High School.
The measure, which passed by a 6-1 vote, specifically targeted the issuance of general-obligation school bonds through a program offered by the Virginia Public School Authority. Supervisor April DeMotts, who supported a larger bail amount, voted alone against the article.
The latest move by supervisors marks another milestone for the CHS project, which recent plans show will double the capacity of the decades-old structure from 866 to 1,400 students.
CHS will be the school division’s most ambitious work in years and is the centerpiece of a series of projects aimed at addressing overcrowding in Christiansburg’s schools strand.
Approved issuance supervisors, however, were down from the $100 million requested by the school board.
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MCPS officials said — and reiterated the point to supervisors last week — that a small portion of the borrowed funds would go toward other future, but not quite identified, school capital needs.
District Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tommy Kranz told supervisors there were a number of other challenges that would need to be addressed down the road, particularly in the Blacksburg strand. One example that the senior district official has repeatedly brought up in recent discussions is the problematic mechanical system at Kipps Elementary School.
Still, several supervisors have expressed concerns about the lack of more specific plans for the remaining borrowed funds.
“If you had a plan, that would definitely make me feel more comfortable,” supervisor Steve Fijalkowski said. “What I’m hearing right now is $85 million for high school and $15 million for a slush fund.”
Kranz immediately pushed back against the supervisor’s description of the $15 million, with the district official saying it won’t be that kind of money in any way.
In addition to reiterating the need to resolve issues elsewhere in the district quickly, Kranz said it “makes sense to borrow today rather than wait.”
Other supervisors hesitant to approve a $100 million issue also raised concerns about the challenges that amount could pose over the 20-year repayment tenure, as well as how it could make it difficult for the county. to meet other needs that may arise.
“I know that schools have needs. The county has needs,” Supervisor Todd King said. “I just have a big worry about tapping as deep as we can go.”
The county would need to find additional sources of revenue if it wanted to issue more debt before 2030, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Harris, who cited comments from financial advisory firm Davenport & Co.
The county, Harris said, considers two things when determining how much debt can be issued: debt carrying capacity and debt affordability.
“Debt capacity means we are within our debt ratios,” she wrote in an email discussing the recently approved bond issue. “Debt affordability means we have enough funds currently budgeted to pay for additional debt service. While we will have debt capacity before 2030, we will not have sufficient existing financing before 2030.”
There was still some support for the $100 million, however, with a few supervisors pointing to the need to prepare for the growing number of challenges in the Blacksburg schools strand.
Supervisor Mary Biggs pointed to developments that have been approved along Price Fork Road that have increased the pressure on schools in this area and will inevitably lead to a continued increase in the student population.
Additionally, Biggs said the county needs to prepare for potential cost overruns with the CHS project.
The $100 million school bond issue was put on the table first, but that measure failed on a 4-3 vote according to the parties. Republicans have a 4-3 majority on the Supervisory Board.
Supervisors then passed the $90 million issue, proposed by Fijalkowski as a compromise.
The CHS plan provides $85 million in debt financing and an additional $10 million in U.S. federal bailout funds, the latter of which is for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
MCPS spokeswoman Brenda Drake said last week that the plan is still to use some of the funding for the school’s capital needs. She also said the district is still working on the CHS design process.