Public hearing scheduled to discuss costs for second Harrisonburg High School

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Harrisonburg City Council voted on Nov. 26 to have a public hearing at its next meeting before making a decision on the second Harrisonburg high school.

"I've had a lot of emails and phone conversations over the last two weeks and the majority of them are asking for more public comment and an opportunity to speak," said councilman Chris Jones. "Initially, I wanted to just vote now, so we could at least start now. I didn't want to delay the process anymore, so I don't believe it will delay the shovels if we have public comment."

In a 5-0 vote, council moved to hold the public hearing on Dec. 10.

That hearing, designed to discuss the costs and a potential tax increase to cover costs for the second high school, has been scheduled for the city council meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 10 in City Hall Council Chambers at 409 S. Main St,

Council is encouraging the public to attend and speak on the issue to provide feedback.

A sign-up sheet will be provided there for those wishing to speak on first-come, first-served basis.

The overall issue is that the city council previously approved a total cost of $76 million for a new high school, and the Harrisonburg School Board recently announced a proposed cost of $104.5 million for building a second high school off of South Main St.

Superintendent Michael Richards said if council votes in favor of funding on the 10th, construction could still begin on time in December, with a projected 2022 opening date.

"We're still okay in terms of the schedule," said Richards. "We must solve this problem of overcrowding. Any date past 2022 is untenable."

At the last council meeting, Superintendent Richards presented council with two options for moving forward with HHS2.

The first option, building the school all at once, came with a $104 million price tag. During a liaison committee meeting last month, some members of city council brought up concerns about the impact this cost would have on the city's debt capacity and tax rate.

That move would require council to increase taxes by roughly 13.6 cents per $100 of taxable property value. The current tax rate in Harrisonburg is 86 cents, so it would go up to nearly a dollar and raise annual taxes on a $200,000 home by about $272 a year, according to city estimates.

In an effort to ease concerns about that tax increase, Richards presented an alternate plan which included building HHS2 in phases.

In 2022, the second building would open with a bus loop and walking path. Then, in following years, sports fields, an auxiliary gym, and stadium would be built. Click here for a breakdown of that timeline.

Richards said a phased-in build would save the city about $7 million, costing $97 million, but there would still have to be a tax rate increase, possibly by around 12 cents.

City Manager Eric Campbell brought up concerns about the city's ability to handle the cost.

"Yes, we are committed to building a second high school, but a key question is how much high school can this community afford," Campbell said. "It affects every other service that this community provides."

According to city documents, under this phased in build, the average homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 would owe the city $21 more a month in taxes and $248 more a year.

Kathleen Holter, President of the Harrisonburg Education Association, believes council should have planned for this increase.

"The City Council should have been planning on the growth for the last ten years and gradually increase the tax base, instead of everything happening now," she said. "It's making us feel badly that we need a new school."

City Council invites the public out to share their thoughts about the HHS2 process.

The meeting will be held on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

If you're unable to attend the meeting, you can still comment on the issue online at harrisonburgva.gov/agenda-comments.