|Parents at school board hearing oppose building a new elementary school on the Glasgow Middle School athletic fields.|
There seems to be widespread agreement that a new elementary school is needed in the Bailey’s Crossroads area to relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. The problem is there isn’t any available land.
At a school board hearing on the FCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Jan. 7, several parents argued against putting a new school on the property of Glasgow Middle School, as recommended in the CIP for 2013-17.
Bailey’s parent Suzie Phipps urged the school board to pursue the site of the Willston Multicultural Center on Arlington Boulevard across the street from the Seven Corners shopping center. That building, a former school, now houses several county programs. The Justice Department has required it be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If that is too costly, it will need to be torn down, so there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for a new school to be built there.
Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction services at FCPS, said while the Willston site is small, it would be possible to put a school there based on the urban model under consideration for Tysons. He’s already come up with an urban school design for a five-story school serving 950 students with common areas, like a gym and cafeteria, on the first floor, library and fine arts rooms on the second floor, and classrooms on the upper floors. There would be a four-story parking garage adjacent to the school with a turf field on top.
Sneed met with Bailey’s Principal Marie Lemmon Jan. 4 and determined there’s no way to squeeze any more trailers on the property. Bailey’s is more than 300 students over capacity and has 19 trailers. With 1,321 students it is the largest elementary school in the county by far. In five years, it’s enrollment is expected to grow to 1,631.
In an interview in the Washington Post Jan. 7, Dean Tistadt, who retired last month from his position as chief operating officer and assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation, said the one thing he regretted is being unable to solve the overcrowding problem at Bailey’s. His successor, Jeffrey Platenberg, starts Jan. 8.
A plan to create additional classroom space at the Woodrow Wilson Library, which is next door to Bailey’s, fell through, making the Willston Center the only possible option—if the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors can be brought on board.
Phipps told the school board at the CIP hearing that Mason Supervisor Penny Gross is “unmotivated to assist in making county land available for a new school.” She urged the school board to ask the county to give or lease the property to FCPS. “Don’t wait for the Board of Supervisors and don’t take no for an answer,” she said. “Willston makes sense.”
Bailey’s former PTA President Christine Adams urged the board to “partner with the community to build a true community school” that would also provide social services for Seven Corners residents, which would encourage more parent and community involvement.
Housing a new school at Glasgow Middle School doesn’t make sense because Glasgow is already about 250 students over capacity, and it will be 500 students over capacity in five years, Phipps said. [Correction: Phipps actually said Glasgow is under capacity now but will be overcrowded in five years.]
Mollie Loeffler, president of the Parklawn Civic Association, urged the board to build the school at Willston, not on Glasgow athletic fields because “the increased traffic would be a nightmare for the community” and the fields are heavily used. “Children need athletic fields. Don’t take them away,” added Parklawn resident Amanda Aguilera. “Glasgow does not make sense. Willston does.”
Several representatives of Falls Church High School (FCHS) spoke at the CIP hearing about the need to change FCPS policies so underutilized, aging schools like FCHS won’t have to wait too long to be renovated.
Joan Daly, president of the Falls Church High School PTSA and member of UPROAR (United Parents to Renovate Our Academic Resource), said FCHS has been given a relatively low priority on the FCPS renovation queue because it isn’t overcrowded. According to Daly, the number-one priority in weighting schools in the queue should be whether or not the educational program is negatively affected by the poor condition of the building.
Daly also said it should be mandatory for the school principal to accompany the FCPS inspectors on a tour of a school and that the assessment must include comments from the faculty. That didn’t happen when FCHS was assessed in 2008, and as a result, the school was given a low priority in the queue. FCHS isn’t scheduled to be renovated until 2024. In addition, she urged FCPS to repair any facility problems as soon as possible if they affect health, safety, or the ability of staff to teach to the program of studies.
The checklist used to rank schools on the renovation queue is inadequate without also considering how school facilities are used, added FCHS parent Lynn Petrazzuolo. For example, FCHS was given a lower rank in the queue because it has classrooms for students with physical disabilities even though those classrooms are in disrepair, lack adequate heat, and in some cases do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Another concern cited by Petrazzuolo is that ranking schools in the renovation queue should be based on the population that should attend a school, not on the school’s current enrollment compared to its capacity. About 200 students that should attend FCHS have been transferred to other schools because their parents wanted them to attend newer schools with updated science labs and other facilities.
“If you build us a beautiful school, like Woodson, many of our community families will come back to their base school,” she said. And that will help relieve overcrowding at Fairfax, Oakton, and other schools.