Va. lawmakers debate which projects are worth funding

Heated discussions about bond issues for schools, roads and parks that will be on the ballot this fall are highlighting a time of major transition in Virginia’s two most populous counties — Fairfax and Prince William.

Fairfax County schools

In Fairfax County, the animated discussion around a school bond referendum approved this week for November’s ballot focused on $35 million designated for a new elementary school in the Oakton area. A group of neighbors wants to ensure a site that was meant for a school decades ago remains a park instead.

The inclusion of the project raised questions about whether a promised reconsideration of the site selection is moving forward.

“Really makes people feel that nobody’s been paying attention; nobody’s been listening,” Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth said.

The bond question was eventually approved with the clarification that a site has not yet been set for the school.

Fairfax County has more than 22,000 students in trailers, and several supervisors believe that the school system should redraw the boundaries to better utilize facilities, even as other renovations and expansions move forward.

Fairfax and Prince William counties both have about half their boards changing.

Prince William County roads, parks

In Prince William County, supervisors significantly changed or scaled back planned roads and parks bond questions on Tuesday.

On a 5-3 vote after hours of discussion, the board advanced a $355 million road bond question that would put more than half of the money toward widening Virginia Route 28 or a bypass in the Manassas area.

“We’re not an island, and we’re growing,” Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart said. “Everybody knows 28’s a disaster.”

Other projects in the proposal include Devlin Road, the Minnieville Road-Prince William Parkway interchange, an Old Bridge Road intersection and Summit School Road.

The resolution removed some seven projects that had been included in a previous draft, including a Van Buren Road extension that has drawn sharp opposition from members of a retirement community.

“Now, at 80 years old, we are told about a four-lane highway, which goes right through our community, destroying our dreams,” Wilma Underwood told supervisors.

A similar 5-3 vote supported a $41 million outdoor parks bond question, but a proposed $47 million indoor park facility bond proposal for an aquatic center and boathouse failed, 5-3, prompting a “wow” from the dais.

The county plans to continue looking into the possibility of an indoor sports complex and field house, but through other means, such as a potential public-private partnership.

The initial draft of the parks bond had totaled $200 million.

Prince William County’s November bond issue will not address school facilities and trailer issues. Supervisors and the school board plan separate discussions in the fall after an independent audit of school enrollment projections is finished.

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