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Jefferson voters go to the polls Saturday for bond issue

September 21, 2000

Jefferson voters go to the polls Saturday for bond issue



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A controversial $39 million school construction bond will go to Jefferson County voters for consideration Saturday.

Planning for the extensive, complex building proposal began at least two years ago when the Jefferson County Board of Education began growing increasingly concerned about the projected student population growth facing the county.

School Board member Pete Dougherty said he is concerned about the 22,000 new students who are expected to arrive in neighboring Loudoun County, Va., in coming years, and said the population growth will obviously spill into Jefferson County.

Superintendent of Schools David W. Markoe said the anticipated population increase and the $39 million bond issue facing county voters represents an important crossroads for the county.

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"It just seems from a timing standpoint and a needs standpoint, this is the time to do it," Markoe said Wednesday.

The $39 million bond issue will be used to build a second county high school at a cost of $31.8 million.

A second high school would provide space for a growing student population and help reduce the population at crowded Jefferson High School by about 350 students, school officials said.

Another $6 million from the bond issue would be used to renovate Jefferson High School and $1.2 million would be used to offset construction cost increases at a new middle school to be built adjacent to the high school.

The bond issue would increase the annual property tax bill on a house that is appraised at $100,000 by about $110, according to Teresa McCabe, chairwoman of Citizens for Better Schools, a political action committee formed to support the levy.

Despite the School Board's argument for the bond issue, some county residents believe there are other ways to meet the school system's needs.

Vicki Faulkner, who has been outspoken about growth and other issues facing the county, said she believes taxpayers should not be forced to pay for new schools needed to offset growth.

Faulkner said school systems across the country have gotten housing developers to donate school buildings, parks, libraries and other facilities in return for permission to build homes in a community.

The donations, commonly called "profers," is something Jefferson County needs to try before raising taxes to pay for schools, Faulkner said.

"The citizens do not have to bear this cost, period. If developers want to build here, they should pay for the privilege," said Faulkner, adding that she plans to vote against the bond issue Saturday.

As county resident Paul Burke has suggested, Faulkner said the new middle school to be built next to the high school should be used to alleviate immediate overcrowding concerns until other ways of funding new buildings can be found.

Faulkner said school officials have estimated the school system is about 400 students over capacity. The 600-seat middle school could ease overcrowding temporarily, Faulkner said.

"All it would take is them hiring a good space planner. We have plenty of buildings," Faulkner said.

County resident Kathryn Conant said it seems there is a lot of money going into improvements for the football stadium at the existing high school, "and I'm not too keen on that."

School officials also want a new gym for Jefferson High, among many other improvements. Markoe said there are "dead spots" in the floor of the gym where it is difficult to dribble a basketball.

Conant said her son looked at the gym and doesn't see anything wrong with it.

"I would have supported this bond issue if it had just been for the (second) high school. It had all these other things in there that I didn't like."

Markoe said many of the improvements to the high school stadium have been funded through other sources. The track at the stadium has been deteriorating, causing loose grit and gravel to gather on the track and making it unsafe to run on, school officials said. No track meets were held at the track this year because of the conditions.

"It's a shame with a school system our size that we don't have a decent track," Markoe said.

The 30-year-old Jefferson High School has experienced a lot of wear and tear, as witnessed by cloth seats in the auditorium that are torn and broken. The sound system in the auditorium doesn't work and at least six exterior doors on the school do not close properly, which has allowed rodents to enter the building, Jefferson County Health Department officials said.

County resident Pete Smith said students should not be forced to wait any longer for improved schools. If people do not agree with the way the bond issue is being presented, they should take their concerns to the School Board or vote the board members out of office after the bond election, Smith said.

Smith said some critics of the bond issue have suggested people vote against any school bond issues until other ways to fund facilities are found, but that only punishes students, Smith said.

Dougherty said while some want the school district to ask for "profers" from developers, school officials are criticized when they have the chance to do so.

Greenvest, L.C., the Vienna, Va., firm proposing the 3,300-home Hunt Field development in southern Jefferson County, has offered the School Board 75 acres for new schools at the site it is considering off U.S. 340.

Some county residents have said the School Board should not accept the land, and should oppose the development.

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