Manassas Park needs a new elementary school. Given that Manassas Park residents enjoy a tax rate about 20% higher than surrounding jurisdictions and that the city’s finances are in a precarious state, you’d imagine that frugality and efficiency would reign as they deal with another capital improvement project that just can’t seem to be deferred. If city leaders are going to improve the city’s financial picture and drag the city’s bond rating out of the swamp, keeping a close eye on public expenditures would only make sense right?
But this is Manassas Park, the jurisdiction bound and determined to spend it’s way into bankruptcy.
The Manassas Journal-Messenger has a predictably fawning article about an “innovative” design for Cougar Upper Elementary School, which includes three story structures, breezeways, and “green” building practices which include toilets that are flushed with collected rainwater, vegetated roofs, and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Projected costs for this project have risen from $27 to $33 million dollars, which has prompted the School Board to try to economize a bit by not including a fitness center and two pre-K classrooms. Yet this 132,500 square foot construction project remains phenomenally expensive, and appears to be only getting more expensive as the city prepares to sacrifice enormous sums of taxpayer dollars on the altar of enviro-kookyness.
Let me put this in perspective. The cost per square foot for this building will be $249 per square foot. In Indiana, elementary school construction costs now are $131 per square foot. Alvey Elementary School in Gainesville, completed in 2002, cost $109.12 per square foot, including expenses not directly related to construction. Mountain View Elementary in Loudoun County cost $104.30 per square foot. (reference) Steel and concrete costs have substantially risen since the time these two schools were constructed, but they cannot explain a 128% increase per square foot for elementary school construction. The cost of this project is astronomical, and far beyond what the already heavily-burdened taxpayers of Manassas Park should be asked to bear.
Prince William County, which is in far better financial shape, can afford it’s Taj Mahal of a new administrative building for the school system with a $253 per square foot price tag. It’s horribly extravagant and wasteful, but that building isn’t going to trash the county’s financial position and may end up not being a whole lot more expensive than the leased space being currently used by county employees, including school employees who will be able to move into publicly-owned buildings when it’s version of the Taj Mahal is complete. There’s a slim capability to defend that project. Not so much in Manassas Park, where rushing into starting a pre-K program and adding another grade to the school system will not only require this extravagant facility to house the program, but require ongoing spending for teachers and other recurring costs to run the program. When faced with school overcrowding and tight budgets, a decision to expand the responsibilities of the school system and add more burden is utterly reckless.
But it’s “green”. It assuages the guilt-ridden consciences of city and School Board leadership in Manassas Park, allowing them to take solace that they have done their small part in saving the planet with rainwater-flushed toilets while they have continued to spend the city into a truly precarious financial position. When the bond payments for this latest incarnation of taxpayer-funded politically correct profligacy come due, will there be enough taxpayers within the city to pay the costs of this extravagance? Or will Colonial Downs again offer to ride to the rescue and allow city leadership to finally profit from the deferred land development deals on Scott Drive and the Manassas Park Shopping Center, making them the millionaires they hoped to become in 2004?
Taxpayers in Manassas Park should be outraged.
UPDATE: The MJM is reporting that two elementary schools being considered in Prince William County are expected to cost $21 million each, far less than the $33 million price tag for Cougar Elementary in Manassas Park which is an expansion of an existing facility, rather than a completely new facility. The costs for Brightly and Gravely Elementary schools may also include land acquisition and site planning costs beyond what is required for Cougar. When Prince William County can build elementary schools a heck of a lot cheaper than what Manassas Park seems to be doing, why aren’t there more questions being raised about how this might be possible?
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