We’re not the first to advance this position, but it’s important enough that it bears repeating. Prince William County should not spend one dime on any new park or road projects until it first commits to build enough new schools and classrooms to move our students out of portable trailers and into brick-and-mortar buildings.
Those who follow the local news know the county board of supervisors is weighing whether to ask voters to approve a $600 million bond referendum in the Nov. 5 election.
The proposal includes $200 million in new borrowing for parks and recreation projects and $400 million for “mobility projects,” the bulk of which would build new roads.
The supervisors announced the projects May 7 and held a town hall meeting May 21 to invite public input. The board is now scheduled to vote either June 18 or June 25 on whether to put the bond referendum on the ballot.
During both May meetings, dozens of high school track coaches and athletes turned out to support the largest parks and recreation project on the list: an $84 million indoor athletic facility featuring a state-of-the-art hydraulic running track.
They say kids who participate in track and field are at a disadvantage in the winter months when their track meets and practices are supposed to be held indoors. Because there’s only one indoor track facility in the region, located at George Mason University, practices and meets are usually held outdoors, despite the cold temperatures.
The supervisors also heard from several others about how the county’s only boathouse, located at Lake Ridge Park and Marina, is too small for high school and adult crew teams. An expansion of the boathouse wasn’t included on the initial list of bond projects, but now some supervisors say they’re thinking about how to include it.
The other park projects include additions of existing parks and a few other new facilities, including another indoor aquatics and fitness center and what’s being billed as an “amenity rich” regional project in the Neabsco District. The latter is promised to possibly include such features as a climbing wall and a “pedal-powered monorail.”
The bond list also includes 11 road projects that would add 50 “lane miles” across the county. Some of the improvements are needed for existing traffic snafus, including the intersection at Va. 123 and Old Bridge Road, where rush hour traffic coming off Interstate 95 has to maneuver across three lanes of traffic to turn left onto Old Bridge Road.
But other projects seem planned to literally pave the way for new development and new residents.
The most obvious in this category is a $70 million intersection for Minnieville Road and Prince William Parkway, which is exactly where such an improvement is needed to make way for the not-yet-approved “Quartz District,” a new residential neighborhood that would bring more than 1,000 new homes and about 430 new students to Prince William County schools. The area is likely also ripe for that new “amenity-rich park” on the list.
It’s no surprise that Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart chose to include the new intersection and park so close to the proposed Quartz District. According to state records, Buchanan Partners has donated more than $45,000 to Stewart’s campaigns for county and statewide offices over the years.
But the project also brings us back to our central point: We already have the equivalent of nearly 5,000 children being educated in classroom trailers around the county. Where are we going to put the additional 430 students from the Quartz District?
While we sympathize with the plight of track and field athletes who have to train in the cold and crew teams without sufficient boat space, we must take care of the county’s needs before we address our many wants.
Long before the county board began discussing the bond projects, a subcommittee of school board members and supervisors worked for years to find a fix for the classroom trailer problem. Their conclusion: We need at least two additional elementary schools and half of a middle school to move all our students into brick-and-mortar school buildings.
The cost of their proposal, estimated at about $174 million, seemed like a big number until we started talking about borrowing $600 million for a bunch of other projects, most of which are less crucial.
Before we embark on a decade-long borrowing binge to pay for projects that pave the way for new development, we must take care of the most pressing needs of the residents and schoolchildren who already call Prince William County home.
The bond projects, especially the new indoor track, sound very exciting. If county residents want to spend their tax dollars on such a facility, so be it. But we must get our kids out of unsafe classroom trailers first.