Chesterfield County officials on Wednesday announced a new Falling Creek Middle School and a brand new middle school to be located along the western U.S. Route 360 Hull Street Road corridor, facilities that are to welcome students for the 2024-25 school year.
The two schools are estimated to cost about $65 million each, with the county planning to pay off the expenses with bonds.
One of the schools would be built on county-owned property in Upper Magnolia Green and would relieve capacity issues at Tomahawk Creek Middle School while replacing Falling Creek Middle. The school also would bring a larger and more modern building to the area.
“I’m just thrilled, thrilled about this project for our students and our families in that community,” School Board member Debbie Bailey said Wednesday night during a work session with school and county officials.
Bailey, who represents the Dale District, added: “Now is the right time to replace Falling Creek Middle School, to give those students and those families their 21st-century building, and to give them the space and to get out of the trailers.”
To pay the total of $130 million for the two projects, county and school officials would make a one-time $27 million payment to the school system’s supplemental retirement plan. The one-time funding would fully fund the retirement plan ahead of schedule, allowing for the school system’s funding to be transferred and pay off the construction bonds.
“That may not be enough to cover both of the facilities. ... We will figure out a way once we get those hard numbers in to fill in any of that gap around the $130 million,” said Matt Harris, a deputy county administrator.
Fully funding the retirement plan would free up roughly $11 million annually in the school system’s operating budget, Harris said. Of that $11 million, about $7 million would be used to pay down the $130 million construction costs, while the rest would be used for other priorities.
The $130 million would increase the bond total in the school system’s November 2022 referendum to $450 million, with $300 million to schools and $150 million for the county. The final numbers and projects are slated to be finalized in the upcoming cycle for the county’s capital improvement program.
The referendum was delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic’s financial impact on the county.
When county voters approved bonds in a November 2013 referendum, $304 million went to finance school building improvements and $49 million to replace the county’s emergency communications system. However, as construction began, the school system’s funding increased from $304 million to $402 million, allowing for schools to be replaced instead of renovated. The 2013 bond referendum paid for two school renovations, a brand new school and six replacements.
Next week, the Chesterfield School Board is expected to vote on the middle school construction projects. Later this month, the Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed bonds.