FAQs About Frederick County's Fourth High School

Why does Frederick County need a fourth high school?

Frederick County Public Schools is planning the construction of a fourth high school in order to have the space necessary accommodate an increasing high school student population.  As of September 30, 2016, there were 1,290 students attending James Wood High School, 1,398 students attending Millbrook High School and 1,499 students attending Sherando High School.  That’s a total of 4,187 students in buildings with a combined operational capacity of 4,050 students (103 percent of capacity).   

Based on the school division’s current enrollment projections, Frederick County’s high school enrollment will be at 4,246 students or 105 percent of capacity in the fall of 2020.  By the fall of 2023, high school enrollment is projected to total 4,502 or 112 percent of current capacity.  Based on a conservative annual growth rate of just 1.18%, enrollment in Frederick County Public Schools will increase from approximately 13,200 to 15,000 students in just 10 years. 

Enrollment projections are based on data provided by the Frederick County Office of Planning and Development, the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, the Virginia Department of Health and Frederick County Public Schools’ historical membership information.

How long has the School Board been considering building a fourth high school?
The School Board first identified the need for a fourth high school in November 2004 when it adopted the 2005-2010 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  The CIP is amended by the Board each year and the fourth high school project has remained on the plan since being added in 2004.

The following is a synopsis of the project’s timeline:  
November 2004 - The School Board adopted the 2005-2010 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which identified the need for the fourth high school for the first time.   

September 2010 - The School Board and the Board of Supervisors approved a School Construction Fund supplemental appropriation in the amount of $2.3 million.  The amount represented the remaining, unrestricted school operating funds and was requested to be appropriated for upcoming CIP projects, which included land acquisition for the fourth high school.  

December 2011 - A joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors was held to review four properties of interest for fourth high school.  

January 2012 - The School Board posted a public notice seeking land that could be used as a site for the fourth high school.  

June 2012 - The School Board reviewed eight potential sites for the fourth high school.

July to September 2012 - The School Board and the Board of Supervisors approved an FY13 budget adjustment to the School Construction Fund in the amount of $2.5 million for the design and document preparation for the fourth high school to the point of, but not including the bidding of the project prior to construction.

January 2013 - A joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors was held to discuss site selection.

March 2013 - The School Board issued an architectural and engineering contract to OWPR Architects and Engineers for the design of the fourth high school.

October 2013 - The School Board purchased 83 acres of land for the fourth high school at a cost of $2,075,000 ($25,000/acre).  The project estimate was published at $64 million.

April 2013 to Fall 2014 - Stakeholder meetings were conducted to seek input on the design of the fourth high school. 

March 2015 - The School Board approved an operating capacity of 1,725 students for the fourth high school. 

Are there any options available to address enrollment growth at the high school level other than building a fourth school? 
The School Board has considered and used a variety of options to deal with increasing student enrollment driven by residential development and other factors. Additions previously have been made at both James Wood and Sherando High Schools and there are a total of 14 modular units currently in use at those two schools- six at James Wood and eight at Sherando. Although there are 44 modular classrooms across the school division, modular units do not provide an ideal learning environment and present some safety concerns as they require students to leave the building envelope in order to get to their classes.  

While short-term options to address overcrowding at the three existing high schools have been considered, a fourth school is needed to address current overcrowding as well as enrollment growth .  If the construction of a fourth high school is delayed, construction inflation will increase the cost by about $1.4 million each year. A delay could also increase operational costs associated with the new school.  
Should the construction of the school be delayed, the following options may have to be considered to address overcrowding and enrollment growth in the short-term.
Use additional modular classrooms
Leasing temporary modular classrooms with installation could cost $250,000-$300,000 each with annual lease payments of $50,000-$60,000 each.  Modular classrooms also present concerns including safety, indoor air quality and bathroom access. This option could also overload pedestrian and vehicular site capacity at the existing high schools. 

Move students to the former Frederick County Middle School 
Utilizing the former Frederick County Middle School to relieve overcrowding at Sherando High School could be considered, but there are some concerns with this option.  Moving Sherando’s freshman class to the former FCMS would reduce the amount of instructional time provided to students due to the need to shuttle students between Sherando and the former FCMS each morning and afternoon.  Students would be moved outside of their attendance zone and additional buses and bus drivers would be needed to address transportation needs. Additional buses are base priced at $100,000 per unit with a current annual operational cost exceeding $25,000 per unit.  Funds also would have to be spent to renovate the former FCMS and staff the facility.  

Build additions at existing high schools
Constructing additions at James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando high schools to accommodate 400 additional students at each school would cost an estimate $30-$35 million each.  If additions were completed at each of the three schools, total high school student capacity would increase by a total of 1,200 students at an estimated total cost of $90-$105 million.  That compares to building the proposed fourth high school, which will increase student capacity by 1,725 students at cost of $91.4 million.

In addition to the higher cost, there are other challenges associated with constructing additions at the existing high schools. At Sherando High School, land would need to be acquired and construction would have to be done with students in the building and while the school is experiencing vehicular and pedestrian safety concerns. At James Wood High School, it would be challenging to locate an addition adjacent to the current building due to the school site. The construction would also have to be done with students in the building and while the school is experiencing vehicular and pedestrian safety concerns.  At Millbrook, an extensive redevelopment of the stormwater management system on the school site would need to occur due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations. An additional site challenge at Millbrook would be the current location of a high voltage transmission line as well as a large natural gas transmission line. Were an addition at Millbrook to be completed, it is also likely additional school buses would have to use I-81 in order to bring students from the current Sherando attendance zone to Millbrook.  

When one considers adding classroom space to accommodate more students in a building, they also must consider the impact of additional students on core sections of the building and campus (parking, gymnasium, cafeteria operations, library, etc.).  Even if there is room to build additional classrooms, an increase in the number of students attending a school places increased stress on all building operations and the building’s common areas need to be equipped to handle the number of students in the building.  

One other factor to consider when contemplating whether to expand existing schools is the possible disruption of operations during the school year.  Ideally, any construction or other work being done at an existing campus should not disrupt the teaching and learning process during the regular school day and/or other school operations.  

When is the fourth high school expected to open?
According to the 2018-23 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the school will open in July 2020.  However, the School Board reviews the CIP annually and makes adjustments based on a variety of factors including revised enrollment projections.

Where will the fourth high school be built?
The fourth high school will be built on property located off of Route 522 at the end of Justes Drive in eastern Frederick County. The 83 acre site is adjacent to Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School and Evendale Elementary School.  The School Board purchased the land at a cost of $2,083,133 ($25,000/acre) in October 2013.  

How many students will attend the fourth high school? 
The fourth high school will have a student capacity of 1,725 students. That is greater than the student capacity at James Wood (1,250), Millbrook (1,400) and Sherando (1,400) High Schools. Increasing the size and capacity of the fourth high school will push back the need for another high school and offers cost savings over time.  Based on current enrollment projections, opening a fourth high school with a capacity of 1,725 students will provide Frederick County Public Schools with enough capacity at the high school level to accommodate students until the fall of 2049.  

What will the opening of a fourth high school mean for students currently attending or scheduled to attend James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando High Schools?
In order to populate the new high school, the School Board will have to approve a high school rezoning which will result in some students currently attending James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando High Schools moving to a different school.  A committee that includes school staff and parents will be assembled to develop rezoning options that will be presented to the School Board through the Superintendent of Schools.  

Information on the rezoning proposals will be shared with parents, students and the community through a variety of communication tools.  After the rezoning options are presented to the School Board, the Board will seek public input before selecting a high school rezoning plan.  The plan would take effect in the year in which the fourth high school opens.

What is the estimated cost of a new high school?
As of November 2016 and based on the design to date, the estimated total project cost for the fourth high school is $91.4 million.  The total cost estimate is a turnkey cost for the project and includes costs such as land, architectural and engineering, furnishings and equipment, construction management, third-party inspections, bonds and other costs of opening the facility. To date, the school division has spent several million dollars on the project including land ($2,083,133), architectural and engineering fees ($4,525,981), site studies and testing ($53,365), surveying ($19,535), legal (bond counsel, etc.- $2,320) and subdivision plat fee ($400).  

How does the estimated cost of the new high school compare to the cost of other high schools built in Frederick County?
Millbrook High School opened in 2003 and is the most recent high school built in Frederick County.  Since Millbrook was built, there has been a significant increase in construction costs.  When Millbrook was constructed, the cost was $118/square foot compared to the projected $257/square foot cost for bidding in 2016 - a 46% increase.  Based on the 2016 estimated cost per square foot, it would cost $76.5 million to build Millbrook High School today which is $37 million more than it cost to build the school in 2003.  The cost of building Millbrook in 2003 did not include the cost of land while the total project cost of the fourth high school includes $2.1 million for land.   When the cost of land is factored into the equation, it would cost $78.6 million to build a replica of Millbrook today on the site designated for the fourth high school.  

The fourth high school is planned to be approximately 40,000 square feet larger than Millbrook and will accommodate an additional 475 students.  The additional space needed to increase the school’s student capacity will cost another $10.1 million.  There are a few other costs totaling approximately $3.2 million associated with the fourth high school.  These costs are for enhancements that will improve instructional delivery and the functionality of the building as well as additional costs associated with extending four lanes of Justes Drive to the school site.

How does the estimated cost of the new high school compare to the cost of other high schools built in Virginia in recent years?
The Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) school construction cost data sheets provide information regarding the construction costs of high schools in Virginia. The costs reported by the VDOE are construction costs only and do not include the cost of items such as land, architectural and engineering, furnishings and equipment, construction management, third-party inspections and other costs.  

Over the past two years, the construction cost of new high schools in Virginia has been between $32.2 million for a school in Montgomery County with a student capacity of 853 to $97.9 million for a school in Prince William County with a student capacity of 2,140.

Loudoun County’s FY16-FY20 Capital Improvement Plan lists High School 11 at the following estimates to open in the fall of 2020: Advance Earthwork $3,045,000; Preliminary Design $6,095,000; Construction $112,730,000 for a total cost of $121,870,000.  The total cost does not include the purchase of the school site. 

How will constructing a new high school be funded? 
The construction of the fourth high school will be funded through the sale of bonds.  Frederick County will repay the debt incurred to build the school over a 20 year period.  

What will the fourth high school look like?
The fourth high school represents a departure from the educational philosophy represented in the design of Millbrook and Sherando High Schools which opened in 2003 and 1993, respectively.  The school has been designed as a two-story building that is divided into six distinct learning communities. Each student will spend most of their time in one of the learning communities.  Each of the six learning communities in the school will house approximately 275 students.  Organizing the school in this way will provide students with the benefits of being in a smaller school.  Teachers will know their students better and will better understand the needs and abilities of their students.   

Each of the learning communities will feature a Collaborative Commons space which will include comfortable furniture that can be easily moved to facilitate arrangements in which the students and staff choose to work.  Classrooms will surround the Collaborative Commons in each of the learning communities.  Each learning community also will include flexible labs that are designed to serve all subjects, including career and technical education.  Other spaces within the new school include an auditorium, a main gymnasium, an auxiliary gymnasium and a cafeteria commons area.  

The high school’s site plan includes an outdoor learning lab, an athletic complex and parking designed to separate bus, student, faculty and visitor traffic in order to enhance traffic/pedestrian safety.  Portions of the site will be retained for future school use.  

How will the opening a fourth high school benefit students?
In addition to providing the space necessary to serve an increasing high school enrollment, the fourth high school will benefit students in a number of ways.  The design for the facility was developed after OWPR Architects and Engineers spent more than a year gathering stakeholder input, considering ways to improve building design based on lessons learned from past projects, and working with staff to better understand instructional best practices.  The design was developed to achieve a variety of project goals that will enhance teaching and learning.

The new facility will benefit students in a variety of ways including:
  • Fosters collaborative learning and positive social interaction among students and faculty
  • Fosters cross-curricular collaboration 
  • Encourages critical thinking through problem and project based learning
  • Sparks student interest in a variety of areas by featuring the work of students throughout the building
  • Provides spaces that that are not curriculum-specific and enable flexibility of instruction, use of new curriculum and pedagogies
  • Provides an environment that fosters the school division’s one-to-one technology initiative and encourages the use of technology
  • Offers passive safety and security measures 
  • Provides opportunities to learn from the building systems
  • Offers outdoor learning areas
  • Encourages physical activity  

How will opening a fourth high school benefit the Frederick County community?

Opening a fourth high school will provide Frederick County with the space necessary to alleviate overcrowding in its three existing high schools and to accommodate future increases in high school enrollment.  The facility will provide students with a safe place in which to learn the skills needed in order to become successful, engaged citizens.
Like the county’s three other high schools, the fourth high school will become a focal point in the community.   Community members and organizations will be able to utilize space at the school for meetings, recreational activities and other pursuits. There also will be space at the school site that is retained for future school use.  

In addition, removing a portion of the student population from James Wood and Sherando High Schools will assist with efficiently and safely renovating those facilities in the future.