Supervisor Diantha McKeel

Albemarle County staff this month will begin planning a $35.5 million November bond referendum to pay for an as-yet unspecified list of school projects.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted, 5-0, Wednesday afternoon to have staff begin the process of putting together the referendum, but it decided not to tackle a list of specific projects in the interest of time.

If the bond referendum is successful, the county will need a 1.3-cent real estate tax rate increase in fiscal year 2018 to cover increased debt service.

Supervisor Brad Sheffield left the meeting as the bond referendum discussion started and was not present when the vote occurred.

The Board of Supervisors must decide early next month whether to request the referendum so the circuit court could approve it by July or August so it appears on the November general election ballot.

Before then, said County Attorney Larry W. Davis, the projects should be moved into the approved Capital Improvement Plan. For that to happen, the Planning Commission would need to hold a public hearing by the end of May.

The Planning Commission has meetings scheduled for May 10 and May 31.

“It is an aggressive schedule that will require some decisions by the board as to the level of public input that you want to have,” Davis said. “That’s the biggest challenge with this timeline. Beyond that, the timeline is in pretty good shape.”

County and school division staff members have until the end of the month to convince the supervisors which projects should be on the list.

“It is incumbent upon us to make the best possible case for the bond referendum package that the School Board approved,” said Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of the county schools.

Some supervisors were skeptical of the schools’ inclusion of $500,000 earmarked to study whether to expand Albemarle High School or build an entirely new high school in the northern feeder pattern.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she supports “brick-and-mortar” school projects but was skeptical of using funds from a referendum for planning.

The schools’ request includes more than $15 million to build an expected 300-student addition to Woodbrook Elementary, $10.9 million for division-wide classroom modernization, $6 million to build three additional science classrooms and renovate another seven at Western Albemarle High School and $2.9 million for security improvements at Baker-Butler Elementary.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel supported the entire list of projects.

“Within two years, 43 percent of our students will be in schools that are overcrowded,” she said. “We have, in my opinion, allowed this to become an urgent issue with regards to our capacity needs.”

The county has more than $205.6 million in unfunded capital projects for fiscal years 2017 through 2021, documents show. That figure grows to $375 million over the county’s full 10-year capital plan.

The school division accounts for $78.6 million for projects still seeking funds over five years, as well as $149 million over the next decade.

It was unclear Wednesday how two school sites proffered as part of a proposed land rezoning related to the Brookhill development on U.S. 29 north will affect the division’s capacity planning.

Riverbend Development has offered a seven-acre elementary school site within the proposed 800-to-1,500-unit development at the corner of Polo Grounds Road and U.S. 29 and a 61-acre high school site on the other side of U.S. 29.

The Albemarle County School Board last week approved an official letter supporting the proffer.