Reston Association struggles to win Friends with bid for capital project funding help

Reston Association pitched several major capital projects to Friends of Reston (FOR) last week in hopes of enlisting the nonprofit as a fundraiser, but the proposal didn’t go over as planned.

RA staff made the case at the joint board meeting on Thursday (Aug. 19) that it could use FOR’s help to cover the costs of three projects: a Brown’s Chapel event barn, a Walker Nature Center treehouse, and an inclusive playground similar to the one at Clemyjontri Park in McLean — each with an estimated cost of more than a million dollars.

However, the RA and FOR boards both expressed hesitation and even frustration at the appeal, citing a lack of membership feedback, COVID-related sensitivities, and an ongoing budget crunch.

“For any kind of capital campaign, we’d have to see that 80% of the community wants this,” FOR President Carol Nahorniak said. “I’m concerned about the cost…Looking at that price tag, we always know it will cost more. There are certain things I’m just not comfortable with.”

RA Director Sarah Selvaraj-D’Souza said she had heard only about the event barn prior to the meeting with FOR, calling it “embarrassing” that the board of directors wasn’t made aware of the other projects sooner.

RA interim CEO Larry Butler downplayed the pitch, saying all of this was simply “brainstorming” based on examples of potential major capital projects from staff.

This isn’t the first time that RA has solicited FOR’s assistance with funding a major capital project. The completion of the Nature House at the Walker Nature Center in 2019 was the result of a capital campaign that raised $1.5 million for the design and construction.

However, FOR has not been involved with a major capital project since then.

Instead, FOR typically helps Reston Association with a multitude of smaller projects, causes, and programs every year.

The nonprofit made some funding requests of its own at the meeting, submitting a list with items like camp and tennis scholarships for kids, habitat restoration enhancements, and an environmental film series.

The largest ask in terms of dollars was nearly $11,000 to assist members who are struggling to pay their RA annual assessments, which could increase again.

Granting all the requests would cost RA just over $84,000. Both boards will discuss their top priorities on the list at a later date.

However, there might not be much of an appetite right now for RA and FOR to collaborate on any bigger projects.

Board members indicated during the meeting that pandemic-related concerns remain on many minds. Other factors behind the lack of commitment include the potential assessment increase due to rising operational expenses, higher priority capital projects, and the need to hire a new CEO.

Of the three projects proposed by RA staff as potential ideas for collaboration, the events barn drew particular consternation.

According to FOR’s governing documents, the organization is not allowed to help fund a project that would generate revenue — which is exactly the intention of the event barn.

Nahorniak noted that all capital projects take longer, cost more, and garner more intense reaction than often anticipated.

“Friends of Reston just stays away from controversy,” Nahorniak said. “I don’t want to be involved in a project that could embarrass anyone.”

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