Fairfax County Public Schools officials defended the costs of school construction and renovations to county leaders at a meeting Monday.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board are working to identify cost-effective ways to meet the county’s growing need to renovate existing school and county buildings and construct new facilities to meet population growth.
A school renovation can range from $14 million for an elementary school to more than $85 or $90 million for a high school.
While a school building might get a new facade as part of a renovation, the most expensive part of a building renovation is hidden behind walls and ceiling tiles, said Jeff Platenberg, assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services for the school system.
“Someone driving by might get the false impression that there is a lot more of that going on throughout the building,” he said of the facades.
The biggest costs are in adding space for more students at overcrowded schools, replacing heating and cooling systems, upgrading technological infrastructure and bringing buildings in line with current building code and accessibility requirements, he said.
Platenberg and Kevin Sneed, director of the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, also said Fairfax County already spends less on each school renovation than neighboring counties.
Other jurisdictions are also investing more in renovations, Platenberg and Sneed said.
Montgomery County, Md., for example, spends about $200 million per year in county funds and receives about $39 million per year from the state and has fewer schools and fewer students than Fairfax.
“They have the ability to do things that we would never dream of,” Sneed said, like installing concrete bleachers in their sports stadiums and having a higher number of bathrooms.
School facilities staff say they need about $242 million a year to truly meet the facility needs of the school system. The schools currently receive $155 million per year from the county for capital needs.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) said the school administration still needs to give the elected officials serving on the Infrastructure Financing Committee more options for what can be cut out of school renovation projects to reduce the cost.
“There is not $242 million a year,” he said. “You can say you need it all you want, but it’s not there and it’s not going to be there.”
The committee, which includes three supervisors and three School Board members, also asked staff to identify unnecessary code requirements that increase costs and explore more creative solutions.
School Board member Patty Reed (Providence) said the joint initiative presents an opportunity to look at more innovative solutions, such as considering school program changes, leasing space or incorporating schools into a mixed-use facility.
“I hope we get to a point where we can be really solution-oriented and creative,” she said.