City Council is expected to decide whether to build a new high school at once or in phases on Tuesday.

Council unanimously voted on Nov. 26 to hold a public hearing on Tuesday to give residents the chance to provide input on the new school, saying many people had reached out asking for another chance to comment on the proposal.

After the hearing, council is expected to vote on a guaranteed maximum price and the total bond, which would reduce the city’s debt capacity.

With the first option, to build the school at once, the maximum price would be $87.2 million. The city would take on a bond of $104.8 million.

The second option would be to build the school in phases, with sports fields, auxiliary gym and stadium to be added on later.

The maximum price for a phased approach would be $80.6 million. The estimated bond amount would be $97.1 million.

Either option is based on the school opening in August 2022, although council’s last vote was for it to open in the 2023-24 school year with a $76 million price tag.

The city has already spent $8 million on the school: $5 million on the land, which is south of Stone Spring Road between Interstate 81 and South Main Street, and another $3 million for an interim agreement with Nielsen Builders Inc. for the design fees.

Councilman Sal Romero said in a prior interview that he plans to vote in favor of the school being built all at once.

Councilman George Hirschmann said he is not in favor of either option, and Councilman Richard Baugh did not specify which way he was leaning.

Mayor Deanna Reed has voiced concern with a significant tax hike needed to fund the project.

If the school is built at once, the city would have $27 million in remaining debt capacity versus $37.4 million if it were built in phases.

The city’s current debt capacity is $127 million.

Either option will increase the real estate tax rate by around 13 cents.

Currently, the rate is 86 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The increase would bring it to 99 cents per $100 of assessed value, but the rate could go up further based on other needs the city may face.

The average value of a home in the city is $196,000, with an annual tax bill of $1,720, or $143 a month.

If the school is built all at once, the estimated tax bill for an average home would be $1,980, or $165 a month.

With the phased approach, it would be $1,968, or $164 per month.

Although council promised Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Michael Richards that it would vote following Tuesday’s hearing, if it does not, the groundbreaking will be delayed.

Nielsen Builders expects to break ground on Dec. 16 if council votes Tuesday.

In a prior interview, Richards said it is important that construction begins Dec. 16 because any delays, such as inclement weather, could push the opening to the middle of the school year.

A sign-up sheet will be available at Tuesday’s meeting for anyone who wants to speak during the public hearing.

Council will meet at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 409 S. Main St.

Contact Laine Griffin at 574-6286 or Follow Laine on Twitter @laine_griffDNR

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