‘Making It Work Days’ Over in Stafford

by Adele Uphaus

Leaking roofs. Severely corroded HVAC pipes and parts. Not enough desks and chairs for new students. High school bleachers and a preschool playground “at the end of their useful life.” Tracks and tennis courts on the verge of being condemned and deemed unfit for competition.

These are only “the tip of the iceberg” of the major maintenance problems plaguing Stafford County Public Schools, division Superintendent Thomas Taylor told the School Board at a work session Thursday afternoon.

“What we can tell you is that this is the really apparent stuff, and there is way more underneath all of this,” Taylor said. “You’re not talking about being years away from critical failure, you’re talking about months, days or weeks.”

“The ‘making it work’ days are done,” Taylor continued. “You’re at the ‘You can’t use it until there is revenue to fix it.’ That’s where we’re at right now. That’s a decade and a half of deferred maintenance.”

Thursday’s meeting was to have been a joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors to discuss the School Board’s budget request for fiscal year 2025, but Supervisors cancelled their participation on Thursday morning.

Supervisors had requested information on major maintenance and “3R” (repair, replacement, and renovation) projects that have been deferred from previous years.

Jason Towery, the division’s Executive Director of Facilities and Maintenance, presented the information to the School Board on Thursday.

The list of 3R needs that were not funded for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, totals $15 million, Towery said, and all of the projects have been deferred for at least three years.

Some of the most expensive projects on the list are repairing the mechanical systems at Hampton Oaks Elementary ($1.8 million), repairing the exterior envelope (windows and doors) at North Stafford High ($1.2 million), and upgrading building interiors at Rockhill Elementary ($1.4 million).

Towery also presented a list of additional “emergent” needs, which include the leaking roof at Ferry Farm, the lack of sufficient furniture for new students, severely corroded HVAC equipment at Rodney Thompson and Stafford Middle Schools and Brooke Point and Mountain View High Schools, and near-unusable tennis courts and tracks at a number of middle and high schools.

Towery said staff will be bringing to the School Board in April a list of recommended uses for $1.7 million in bond funds that will expire this summer and must be used.

The bond funds were initially meant for building envelope repairs at North Stafford High School, but since the cost of that project has now exceeded its budget, Towery said, staff will recommend reallocating the funds to items on the emergent list, especially to purchasing furniture, fixing the Ferry Farm roof, and one or two other equipment repairs.

Towery said it is impossible for staff to prioritize fixing the athletic facilities at one school over those at another, so the recommendation for all these needs will be to identify another source of revenue—charging a fee for students to participate in athletic programs.

 “Is that what we want to do? Absolutely not. Is that an option? Everything is,” School Board Chair Maureen Siegmund said.

Taylor said, and School Board members agreed, that if the division does pursue this option, it must be sensitive to the fact that almost half of the student population receives free or reduced-price lunch.

Siegmund also said Thursday that both Boards are working on rescheduling the joint meeting.

Managing Editor and Correspondent