Lynchburg City Councilman Wants to Relook at Paying for New Heritage HS

Lynchburg, VA - The price tag for a new Heritage High School sits around $85 million. But Lynchburg City Councilman Jeff Helgeson has been against spending that much from the start.

And he's not done making his case.

Helgeson wants to take another look at the city's approach to rebuilding Heritage.

He wants renovating the building back on the table, saying he's looking out for those having to foot the bill.

"Most people, especially in my ward, recognize that they're taxed enough" said Helgeson.

Helgeson is a numbers kind of guy.

"We're the fourth most fiscally stressed community in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. So adding yet another tax burden upon them is very difficult" he said.

Heritage High School sits in Helgeson's ward.

"We'd be paying for it for 30 years" he said of the school.

At an estimated 85 million dollars, re-building the school is the approach being taken by school system officials.

"It would get our debt up to probably about a half a billion dollars" said Helgeson.

But Helgeson says the initial options weren't vetted enough. He'd rather the school be renovated.

"Guess what? You've got to go back to the drawing board and look, for the benefit of our taxpayers, because we are responsible for how the money is spent" he said.

"Not only would attempting to renovate that building in its current state not result in material savings over new construction, it was actually the most expensive of the three options" said School Board Chair, Charles White.

White said while planning, all options were considered.

Heritage, he says, is in such disrepair that renovating it would be just as costly as building new and the hefty price tag is one that needs to be paid, as a long-term investment in the city's future.

"Every member of the school board also has every interest in making the most cost-effective decision possible for taxpayers, because we're all tax payers ourselves" said White.

"Again, it's easy to spend other people's money" said Helgeson.

Heritage High School is now seven years past its 30-year life expectancy.

White says the school has also received millions of dollars in renovation upgrades since its condition began deteriorating.

Architects estimate the longer the project is postponed, the potential for a higher price tag will increase.