Supervisors await new info before second wave of trailer purchases

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 5, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

School division already acquiring three trailers for Walton ES

PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George County leaders are currently waiting for additional information from the school division regarding efforts to address air quality issues at Walton Elementary School before moving forward with the purchase of a second wave of trailers that would likely be used at the school.

Last week, a public hearing that sought community comment on plans to amend the county’s spring borrowing to allow up to $450,000 out of the $9.4 million in debt issued to be used to buy six additional trailers listed in the county’s capital improvement plan as a request from the school division was deleted from the agenda at the request of Supervisor T.J. Webb, who brought forth the request in October.

The proposal was secondary to the green light given by the county board of supervisors in October that saw Prince George’s leadership allow the school board to move forward with buying three trailers that will serve as six classrooms at Walton Elementary School. Those facilities will serve to provide additional space as, throughout the course of this and the previous school year, air quality issues have been found in a number of classrooms, resulting in those students being relocated to alternate locations to allow for proper cleaning and retesting before they can resume use.

Those units, according to estimates provided in late October, are expected to be on-site and in use at Walton Elementary School in the next six to eight weeks. The county will then likely reimburse the school system, with the possibility of carryover funds being used to cover that expense. The school division estimates those funds total roughly $640,000, with the trailers slated to cost $450,000.

During a special joint meeting in October, the school division told both the school board and board of supervisors they had tasked Moseley Architects with providing options for remediation based on how long the building is expected to be used for as efforts to build a new elementary school that will likely serve as Walton’s replacement remain ongoing, with a recent update from County Administrator Percy Ashcraft revealing a land transaction proposal between the county and Fort Lee for land near the A Avenue gate has now reached the Pentagon. Any decision on such a transaction would likely not be received until late next year.

As both bodies await Moseley’s report, Webb said he felt it was best to delay the public hearing on amending this past spring’s debt issuance to allow for the purchase of additional trailers.

“It was my request to pull it because, as of right now, the schools are trying to figure out what they can do short-term to the issue at Walton,” he said. “In conversations with [Superintendent] Dr. Lisa Pennycuff, she asks if I could hold off and wait until they get their presentation to us on [December] 10, which, when you are doing a public hearing and you are going to borrow money, you have to specifically state why, but we don’t have the specific language at this point in time.”

“We decided to pull it back, hear what they got, and then make sure, whether it is going to be trailers or whatever else they are going to need, to help them get through the next two-and-a-half to three years,” Webb added.

At the time of the borrowing earlier this year, Doug Sbertoli, the county’s bond attorney addressed the topic of reallocating borrowed funds from one project to another as supervisors weighed the merits of some of the initiatives being funding during the debt issuance.

“You can utilize the funds across the spectrum of what has been noticed … but, if it is an entirely new project that wasn’t identified in the public hearing notice, then, in order to open up that opportunity to finance that project, a public hearing would need to be held,” Sbertoli said at the time. “You are limited to the universe of identified projects to be financed at this point. You can eliminate a project or add a project but, you have to go through the public hearing process if that project is entirely new and [was] not identified in the previous notice.”

Those remarks by the county’s bond attorney stuck with Webb months later as he and his fellow supervisors prepare to weigh the options of moving borrowed funds from one project to a different one.

“I try to pay attention to what I am being told and I knew that was the process,” he remarked. “So, instead of having a public hearing and jumping too quick, I think, and the board agreed with me, that it was advisable that we pull it, we wait until we hear from the schools and find out exactly what they need while we are moving forward with the new school.”

That report is expected to be given during the supervisors’ meeting on December 10, one day after it’s presented to the school board. For Webb, he said the cooperation and collaboration between both boards has been strong following a joint meeting of each body in October where Walton Elementary’s immediate needs were discussed at Prince George High School.

“It is something we always strive for and that has never changed,” he said. “We are responsible to the citizens as a whole in the county where we have to make the best decision possible. Sometimes, it is tough to get to that level and get the agreement that all parties can agree to.”

As the school division works to tackle what has been described as a “chronic” issue with air quality at the aging Walton Elementary School, Webb said his board’s possible consideration of a second wave of trailer purchases is important.

“It is important to the teachers, parents, and students, and we get that,” he remarked. “This was an opportunity that sprung up, we saw it, and we are going to wait, and figure out how we can work together to get them an end to the means in the short term. So far, they are in agreement with it so we look forward to hearing from Dr. Pennycuff on the 10th, then you will see a public announcement for the public hearing, which will be thirty days, which will run it into January. Then we will have the language necessary to say how we are going to re-appropriate this money and how it is going to be used.”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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