Stop building Blacksburg High
It’s been two years since the collapse of the Blacksburg High School gym roof. During these two years, numerous discussions have taken place about whether to repair BHS or build a new school.
While the gym was the only part of BHS to collapse, advocates seized upon the opportunity to push for a new school.
Large sums of money were spent for structural engineering firms to determine if the rest of the building would be safe to house students. The engineering and other experts concluded that the building could be made safe for approximately $15 million, which included the $5.5 million insurance money for a new gym.
That was not what the new-school zealots wanted to hear. The pressure was intensified to jack up the repair costs so a new school would make financial sense. Even members of the board of supervisors caved in to favor a new building, citing the inflated repair estimates.
Site and foundation construction has begun on the new high school, and it will be in operation in 2013 or 2014. There will be rejoicing and an open house, but the tremendous debt will be unbearable for decades on Montgomery County taxpayers.
It should be noted that some citizens who favor the new school will not be living in the county in a few years to pay the bill.
Many people, including school employees, were reluctant to speak publicly against excessive spending for a new high school for fear of being labeled anti-education or of receiving reprisals from their employers. They are now, however, speaking out against the high tax rates that will be required to pay the mortgage.
The county’s debt level will be a nearly $300 million financial albatross on residents. School employees should expect to be shortchanged in salaries and benefits for years. Their salary increases and perks have now been committed to bricks and mortar.
It didn’t have to be this way.
The spend-now-and-worry-later mindset has forced many state and municipal governments into default, especially at the city and county levels. Could it happen here? Only time will tell.
There is no worse time than the present to burden county residents with a tax increase. It’s time to suck it up and be content with the finances that are available to the county.
Any tax increase will raise havoc with the county real estate industry. Real estate investments, prices and rents will take a tremendous hit.
There still might be time to reconsider the BHS decision. Many communities around the country have halted construction of new schools and other government buildings because of financial constraints.
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors should explore the possibility of doing the same.
Saari was Montgomery County Schools superintendent
from 1974 to 1983. He lives in Blacksburg.