Developer looks at alternative

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By Tom Wilmoth

Downtown Moneta developer George Aznavorian believes the issue with the septic drain fields at Moneta Elementary School can be fixed for considerably less money than the $400,000 price tag school officials have stated it will cost.
    Aznavorian has been working to see if there is a way the Bedford Regional Water     Authority,    local businesses and the county might work together to provide septic service to the north Moneta area. He believes it could be a “win-win” for everyone.
    The impetus behind his work: trying to see that the school is not closed.
    Aznavorian said he was shocked to see Moneta Elementary slated as a school the school system might close. He wants the School Board to slow down with a decision to close the school.
    Moneta Elementary and Bedford Primary School were the two schools recommended for closure by a state-mandated efficiency study released May 15. A letter went out last week to parents in the Staunton River Zone stating that the School Board would consider closing either Moneta Elementary or Body Camp Elementary.
    The School Board will hold a public hearing on the possible closings Monday, June 2, and will hold a special meeting June 5 to vote on whether either of the schools will be closed prior to the upcoming school year.
    Aznavorian said he has looked over the problem with Moneta Elementary with his engineers and contractors. He believes the BRWA and school system could share the costs of running the connection under the railroad tracks. He said the BRWA could utilize that work to provide a way for water lines to run north as part of its plan to run those lines to Forest.
    “Our focus is to try and create a win-win to bring water and sewer to the north side of the tracks,” he said. “We can show return on investment.”
    Businesses near Moneta Elementary would benefit from being able to connect to a  septic line run to that area, he said. Those would also include the fire and rescue squads located in that area.
    “We’ve got most all of their commitments to connect,” Aznavorian said of the businesses located on the north side of the railroad tracks near the school. He said adding those to the BRWA would help offset its costs.
    He’s afraid the “knee-jerk reaction” to the septic issue at Moneta Elementary is to say “let’s go ahead and close it.”
    Aznavorian said Moneta Elementary is unique in its proximity to a doctor’s office, a fire station and a rescue squad.
    As a developer, Aznavorian has worked before to develop a public-private partnership to provide needed utilities for development. This was an issue he spearheaded when he was first developing Downtown Moneta and Mayberry Hills.
    He said before a decision is reached in closing a school, questions need to be answered about the possibility of doing the sewer-line extension project—and doing it cheaper.
    Aznavorian believes the study recommending closing Moneta Elementary was flawed in its information, bringing its conclusion into question. He said more time needs to be put into the study than what the consultants used to formulate their recommendations.
    “The school board certainly hasn’t been given enough time to make a decision,” he said.
    And he would like more time to get his financial numbers more exact, before taking a proposal to the county. He believes if the process is slowed down, “we can prove to them we can make a difference in saving the school.”
    Ultimately, he believes the school system’s $400,000 suggested price tag to fix the septic system problem can be cut in half.
    “Slowing it down gives everyone a better chance to take it in and make an educated decision about what we’re going to do with these schools,” Aznavorian said.