Bailey’s Elementary School is way overcrowded, and even if there was funding for an addition, there isn’t enough land, and it isn’t structurally feasible to add another story. So a group of parents have come up with an innovative solution—add some classroom space at the nearby Woodrow Wilson Library, which is scheduled to start renovations next year.
The school has a program capacity of 1,049 students. Current enrollment at the start of the current school year was 1,232 and is projected to reach 1,559 by 2016.
At a community meeting at the school last night, Suzie Phipps, Bailey’s volunteer coordinator, explained why forming a partnership with the library seems to be the best option for addressing the school’s capacity problem:
- Adjusting the school’s boundaries won’t help because other nearby schools, such as Glen Forest, Belvedere, and Sleepy Hollow are at or over their capacity or are too small to handle the overflow.
- Fairfax County Public Schools’ Capital Improvement Program (CIP) calls for a new elementary school in the Bailey’s Crossroads area to relieve overcrowding, but planning wouldn’t start until 2016.
- The school district cannot spend more than $155 million on school construction and renovation projects annually. There are $800 million worth of proposed school improvement projects on the CIP, and Bailey’s Elementary School isn’t even on the list of schools needing work.
- There isn’t any available land in Bailey’s Crossroads that could accommodate a new school, and acquiring private property would be too expensive. FCPS requires at least eight acres for an elementary school.
- There is only 4,600 square feet available on the school property for an expansion.
Officially known as Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, the school has a magnet program and a partial-immersion Spanish language program that draw students from a wider area. Those programs help create a more balanced enrollment for a school community that is overwhelmingly made up of lower-income students and English language learners.
Getting rid of Bailey’s magnet and immersion programs “isn’t an option,” Phipps says. Having an arts-focused program has brought all kinds of opportunities to Bailey’s students, including a partnerships with the Kennedy Center and the U.S. Forest Service. And having a more diverse population has been beneficial for all students.
“We need to find space for the kids that are here now and the kids coming in the future,” Phipps says. The school is so overcrowded that some students eat lunch at 10:05 a.m. while others have to wait until 1:30 p.m. The cafeteria will be renovated this summer, which will be helpful, but that’s not going to solve the overcrowding problem.
So with long-term renovation plans many years away, sharing space with the library offers a more immediate solution, which Phipps says could also benefit members of the community who use the library.
The library renovation, scheduled to start in the spring of 2013, calls for upgraded computer capacity so more library patrons can use the internet and expanded space for community meeting rooms. Phipps and other members of the Bailey’s PTA and staff would like the school district and county government to work together to revise the library renovation plans to provide more space for classrooms.
There are no detailed plans, and the library proposal has not been formally endorsed by the PTA, but Phipps suggests that an expanded library could house two entire grades along with space for school administrators. The additional space could be used by the public during non-school hours. The park behind the library wouldn’t be affected, she says.
Housing overflow students at the library would be better than having them in trailers, she says. Currently all Bailey’s third and fourth-graders are in trailers, which don’t have bathrooms or even running water.
“We want to explore this option. We don’t know if it’s feasible,” Phipps says.
Mason District school board member Sandy Evans said she is open to the idea although she noted “the conversation is just starting,” and there are a lot of unanswered questions. “It has to be a win for all those involved—the library, school, parks, and community.”
Community activist Priscilla Weck, a member of Friends of the Woodrow Wilson Library, expressed some doubts about how the library and community would benefit if “400 kids were moved to the library site.” The library is already “very well utilized as a community center,” she says.
One member of the audience called the county’s support for infill development at Peace Valley Lane, and elsewhere in Mason District, inconsistent with the enrollment strains on nearby schools. He urged the county and school system to work together.
Evans noted that she and Mason Supervisor Penny Gross have explored other options and have looked for alternative sites for a new school but have not found anything that would work.
Gross cited some of the issues that need to be resolved before the library proposal could go forward, including the legal issues involved with having a building jointly owned and operated by the county and school system. The $6.5 million library renovation project is funded by a bond approved by voters in 2004, and “if it’s not used for the library, we lose that money and don’t get it back,” she says. There are also land use issues which might require an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan, she says.
“I hope we won’t waste our energy on something that won’t work,” Gross says. “We don’t want to end up with something nobody likes.” She suggested the possibility of finding rental space as “a temporary fix while we come up with a long-term solution.” She also noted that the redevelopment of Bailey’s Crossroads, supported by an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan a couple of years ago, might include a school at some point—but if that happens, it is years away. Meanwhile, the library is moving forward with its renovation, Gross says.