Henrico County officials are closer to solidifying plans for a bond referendum next November that could include about $500 million worth of projects – with about two-thirds of that earmarked for school projects.
The county’s board of supervisors Tuesday night reviewed a tentative list of projects that could be presented to voters on a Nov. 8, 2022 ballot; it intends to finalize that list sometime in January, following its annual retreat.
The board has discussed the possibility of a referendum for several years, with the need for one becoming more and more obvious as Henrico’s list of desired infrastructure projects without funding sources grew to more than $1 billion. Henrico voters last approved a bond referendum in 2016, and the county has sold all bonds from that $419.8-million measure, has completed 12 of the associated 25 projects, started 12 others and is nearing the design phase of the last one.
During a work session Tuesday, Deputy County Manager for Administration Brandon Hinton laid out a tentative vision for the projects that might be included on next year’s referendum; the list largely is the same one supervisors discussed at their retreat this past January, with one significant exception: a proposed $50-million renovation of The Academy at Virginia Randolph/Virginia Randolph Education Center. That project now will be funded with federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (or ESSER) III program.
The potential bond projects identified to date include:
• eight public school renovations, expansions, rebuilds or new facilities;
• the relocation of two fire stations, replacement of a third and renovations to four others;
• the construction of a state-of-the-art public safety training facility for Henrico Police and Fire;
• the construction of a no-kill animal shelter;
• improvements to Kain Road Park and Kain Road in Short Pump;
• other potential Recreation and Parks projects;
• and a number of drainage improvement projects countywide.
The school projects tentatively would include the construction of entirely new editions of three schools (Quioccasin Middle, Jackson Davis Elementary and Longan Elementary), the renovation of two others (Holladay and Highland Springs elementaries) and the construction of two new ones (an elementary school near the River Mill community in Glen Allen and another likely somewhere in the Three Chopt District). The elementary school projects could result in as many capacity for 2,000 or so more students.
Varina District Supervisor Tyrone Nelson lobbied Tuesday for the consideration of a total rebuild of Highland Springs Elementary School, suggesting that it might not make sense to spend $25 million or so to renovate it when a new edition could be built (according to school system officials) for $35 million or $40 million.
The list of school projects also would include construction of an environmental education building on the 1,184-acre Wilton Farm property in Varina, which Henrico purchased in 2019 for $10 million. The facility would produce more energy than it uses and be designed to support Varina High School’s new Environmental Science Specialty Center but be available to all students. It could be the first building of its type in K-12 education nationally, Hinton said.
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Henrico typically separates its bond referendums so that voters can approve or deny projects within each category individually. A simple majority is all that’s needed to authorize each one. In 2016, each category earned overwhelming approval (between 75% and 86%).
The county annually compiles and prioritizes its infrastructure (or capital) needs in its capital improvement program, which is one component of its annual budget. Smaller capital projects, such as building renovations or enhancements, often are funded through the general operating funds, the county’s meals tax revenue or other sources.
But larger projects (such as new construction efforts) typically require funding from a bond referendum, a process through which voters authorize the county to take on debt by selling bonds to raise the necessary money, which it must then pay back with interest over a period of time (usually 20 years). The process is akin to making a credit card purchase.
Hinton told supervisors that the county’s falling debt obligations (from about $630 million currently to just more than $400 million in Fiscal Year 2026) and rising debt capacity (just shy of $800 million currently and more than $900 million by FY26) mean that it’s well-positioned to take on a new round of debt while remaining in strong financial position.
In next year’s referendum, nearly $56 million could be targeted to address drainage projects countywide, funding land acquisition, improvements to help mitigate erosion and flooding, and stream restoration projects.
Funding for the first phase of an athletic village at Kain Road Park in Short Pump – a 205-acre site the county purchased in 2008 – also could be part of the plan and would pay for the construction of athletic fields, restrooms, a concession stand, playground equipment, shelters, trails and parking. There’s also room for one or potentially several other recreation projects, Hinton told supervisors – possibly improvements to middle school athletic fields or to Deep Bottom Park, among others.
As part of the referendum, the no-kill animal shelter could be built on that same Kain Road site, Hinton said. The facility would be operated by a third-party nonprofit agency, continuing the county’s recent trend of funding construction of facilities but then turning their operations over to other entities to eliminate recurring costs.
Money to relocate Firehouses 1 and 6 and to replace Firehouse No. 11 also could be part of the referendum, along with funds to improve four other stations – Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17.
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