The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
City to weigh down payments on capital needs
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
After spending $35.4 million on a new courthouse, several Fredericksburg City Council members worried the city might not have enough money left to address other local needs.
Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley and City Attorney Kathleen Dooley have come up with a plan to assuage their fears.
On Tuesday, the council will consider two resolutions created by Whitley and Dooley that spell out the city’s commitment to resolving those other issues.
Whitley’s resolution proposes assigning money from the city’s reserves as “down payments” on three projects: adding downtown parking, renovating the Renwick building—where the Circuit Court is now—and addressing capital needs for the city’s schools.
In addition to Whitley’s suggestion, Dooley proposed a resolution specifically declaring those issues as city priorities.
The issues came up last week when the council held public hearings regarding zoning permits for the new courthouse at Princess Anne and Charlotte streets.
Vice Mayor Brad Ellis wanted the city to address renovating the Renwick building as a condition for one of the permits.
Rather than attaching it as a condition, Dooley offered to write a separate resolution that would formalize the council’s commitment to that project and the two others.
ADDING MORE PARKING
Whitley proposes earmarking $1.2 million as a “down payment” for downtown parking.
He came up with that amount based on a parking study the city completed that determined that the courthouse would need 261 spaces in the year 2030. For the purpose of assigning balance, he used 85 percent of that, which is 222 spaces.
Each space costs $5,500. There are already nine designated spots for the courthouse, so the city would need to build 213 more, at a cost of $1,171,500.
Both Ellis and Councilwoman Bea Paolucci have expressed concern that once the new courthouse opens, the Renwick building could sit vacant for 25 years, the way Maury School did before it was turned into condos.
Even though every council member agreed that renovating the building would be a priority, their fears were not eased.
That’s when Dooley proposed the resolution as a compromise.
The proposal is that $1 million from the city’s reserves would be earmarked for the Renwick renovations.
FirstChoice Public–Private Partners, the team building the new courthouse, submitted a plan to turn the Renwick building into office space at a cost of $5.9 million. But that isn’t set in stone.
The council will discuss it in a work session on Oct. 9.
However, renovations cannot be done until the Circuit Court and clerk move into the new building in the spring of 2014.
Construction would not take place until fiscal 2015 at the earliest, according to Whitley’s memo.
In addition, if the courthouse project costs less than budgeted, some of the savings could be applied to the Renwick work, Whitley said.
Schools Superintendent David Melton addressed the council last week and told them that based on a Weldon–Cooper Center report, he expects to enroll an additional 500 students in the next five years.
This is in addition to an enrollment boost of about 600 students over the last three years.
Melton said Hugh Mercer Elementary School would be impacted the most, and that has become the school system’s top priority when it comes to expansion.
In addition to a possible expansion at Hugh Mercer, Walker–Grant Middle School needs a new roof and the original Walker–Grant building, where Headstart is, needs renovations.
Whitley proposed earmarking $1.2 million for the needs of the schools.
The total amount of all these “down payments” would be nearly $3.4 million, or just under a quarter of the city’s reserves account, which was $13.6 million at the end of fiscal 2011.
OTHER ACTION TUESDAY
In addition to the two resolutions, the council will vote on four special permits needed to construct the new courthouse.
The council will also vote on several ordinances designed to encourage redevelopment downtown near the train station.
Finally the council will vote on the final plans for a 79-home subdivision called Telegraph Hill off Lafayette Boulevard.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413