By Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer
Crowds overflowed the public meeting room and spilled into the hallway for the Greene County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 22. More than fifty county residents were present to show support for the school’s desire to use bonds to upgrade facilities for athletics and the performing arts; over twenty-five had signed up to speak directly to the Board. Groups of families and students stood outside waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting.
The Board’s agenda indicated that there was to be “a presentation regarding proposed school’s facility project”. As this was not a resolution, there was no public hearing per se. This caused some confusion among community members about the process the Board followed.
Greene County Schools Superintendent David Jeck gave the presentation and described the current conditions of the facilities as “embarrassing”.
He requested “support from the Board of Supervisors for consideration of the project”. The proposal included significant upgrades and improvements to the physical plant of the schools athletic and performing arts facilities.
Priorities – Overview
Baseball/Softball: Light, irrigate fields, press box with restrooms and concessions (facilities with plumbing), other improvements, dugouts, stands
Track: Repair/Replace/expand to include Virginia High School league required 8 lanes, relocate fence
Stadium Area: improve/expand seating, centralize/expanded concessions & restroom facility, renovate press box building
Other: Expand/Improve Parking, replace WMHS Gym floor, Replace Performing Arts Center curtains/Stage & Seating improvements, tennis courts (to be located at the Park)
School Finance Director Kim Powell and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Representative Jim Allen added information related to the process of the funding application and reiterated that this project would have no impact on the school budget as it would utilize retiring debt line items to fund the repayment of the new debt issuance.
The urgency of the request was due to the potential expiration of “stimulus” funds that are currently available to buy the low borrowing rate (about 4%). Allen indicated that the County must be in the “borrowing book” by August 28 to qualify for this “historically” low rate.
At this point, what was being asked of the Board was not completely clear, but Jeck seemed to be seeking conceptual support for the school’s plan and support for the USDA to proceed with the application process; official funding requests would come only after the application process and would require additional community input, Board meetings, resolutions, and public hearings.
After the presentation, Board Chairman Catalano asked for feedback from the Board members. Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe) was not at the meeting as he was out of town on a previously scheduled trip family vacation. Carl Schmitt (At Large) and Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) spoke in favor of encouraging the school and USDA representatives to go forward with the paperwork necessary to apply for funding.
Vice Chair Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville), who served as a Board representative on the architect selection committee along with Frydl, said he would like to see more details and thinks that all Board members should be present before he would be willing to encourage application for the funding. Board Chair Steve Catalano (At Large) stated that the county had frozen all capital projects and expressed concerns about shifting local priorities, particularly in relation to funding of mandated constitutional officers and said he was unwilling to support the schools continued consideration of applying for the bond.
Frustration and anger was palpable in the room when the Board took a five minute break that the audience perceived as the end of the meeting where they had not yet been heard. When the Board returned to the room, Catalano called those who had signed up to speak.
All speakers expressed concern that two members of the Board were unwilling to support even completing paperwork to apply for the bond.
Speakers included students, parents, teachers, and community leaders:
- Marianne Shepard, president of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Vice Chair of the Board of the Greene County Economic Development Authority, stated that facility improvements were imperative to attract high end businesses to the county.
- Steven Brucker, also affiliated with EDA, stated that businesses expect schools to be a priority with a community
- Ernie Inzana described Greene County’s facilities as the least impressive of all those in the VHSL and wondered how other schools/counties have figured out how to get the facilities that have been needed for so long in Greene County. He commented that “you stop spending to stay out of trouble but when you stop reinvesting, that’s the start of death”
- Sam Jeffers reminded Board members that they haven’t seen a process like this before because there hasn’t been economic stimulus money available before and that we cannot depend on its future availability. He expressed concerns about the impact on teacher recruitment and retention and left the Board with the thought that “athletics (adversity) doesn’t build character; it reveals it”
- Darla Rose asked the Board to consider the intangible losses that would result if this project is not done and encouraged the board to avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish”
- Pauline Hovey expressed appreciation for past fiscal conservatism but encouraged the Board to support this school project
- Mark Sanford stated that the current facilities have been unsafe since 2000 and that the facilities were, by far, the worst he’s ever coached on
- Andrea Wilkinson, Ruckersville Citizens Committee, stated that she had no children in the schools but emphasized that the Board had heard from the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, and the Stanardsville Area Revitalization group about the importance of these facilities being addressed
- Robbie Morris advocated that the Board be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money by spending responsibly now to avoid future inflated prices as the economy recovers.
- Numerous parents, teachers, and coaches including Jim Shifflett, Kim Powell, Nancy Rodland, Katie Burnell, Jeff Nave, Lea Hertz, Jacob Hertz, and Cynthia Shifflett expressed concerns regarding the safety and potential for injury and subsequent lawsuits with current facilities, the length of time the facilities have been in disrepair, and the frustration that Greene County is unable to be as competitive with inferior facilities.
Patsy Morris, former Greene County supervisor, was the lone member of the audience who clapped when the project did not get support from the Board of Supervisors.
Board members have reiterated throughout the year that they plan to make their decisions driven by data. The Free Enterprise Forum has several questions regarding data points that might be helpful in guiding the Board in their decision:
- Would using objective and measurable criteria in presenting the state of facilities be effective in helping the Board of Supervisors prioritize specific infrastructure repair/replacement?
- Considering the uncertainty of economic conditions, would the Board of Supervisors be more comfortable with a smaller project scope?
- Would unraveling the project to discreet elements, each with an estimated cost provide the Board the ability to support a portion of the proposal?
- Are there statistics on injuries, loss of revenue, parent/student/community or visitor complaints?
- What would be the divergence in the project’s financing cost if the USDA loan was not available and another financing vehicle was used?
The Board of Supervisors will continue the discussion regarding support for the bond application at the next meeting on July 13 [with all supervisors present]. Although there will be no “public hearing” until there is a resolution, the public at last night’s meeting spoke loudly and clearly when given the opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting during matters from the public.
The following links provide additional information developed by the Greene County Schools related to the school project discussed at last night’s meeting:
Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities Update June 2011
Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities At A Glance
FAQs for the Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities