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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some Bailey's Elementary students could attend school in an office building next fall

FCPS wants to retrofit this building for classrooms.

At a contentious meeting at Bailey’s Elementary School Nov. 26, Fairfax County Public Schools officials outlined plans for using a vacant office building to relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s, beginning in September 2014.

The five-story building at 6245 Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners would serve about 400 to 500 students, possibly in grades 3, 4, and 5.

There was a great deal of confusion over whether the office building is a temporary or long-term solution and whether it is a replacement for the new school to be funded by the bond referendum approved by voters last month.

“We were told every step of the way that the bond referendum is separate and that there would be two schools,” said one member of the audience. The $250 million bond includes $20.877 million for construction of a new school in the Bailey’s area in 2017-18. Now, she said, FCPS is saying the office building is being put forth as an alternative to the new school.

“There is a need for two schools, but the office building is the only project being considered right now,” said Jeffrey Platenburg, chief operating officer in charge of FCPS facilities and transportation, There isn’t any available land or funding for a brand-new school, although FCPS is continuing to explore other, longer-term solutions, he said.

“We do need two schools,” Mason Supervisor Penny Gross concurred, but a new school building is years away from being a reality. The office building “is in the right place, and it’s available now.”

Bailey’s needs an urgent solution to deal with overcrowding that has reached a crisis level. With 1,300 students, the school is at 160 percent of capacity. In five years, enrollment is projected to reach 1,600. There are 19 trailers, and half the library has been converted to classrooms.

The bond money is the only school facilities funding available funding available now, Platenburg said. None of the officials at the meeting were prepared to say whether the entire $20 million in bond funds  would be used for the office building project.

Renovating the building would cost $8-$9 million, said Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction services at FCPS. Acquisition of the office building is in negotiations, so it’s not known how much it will cost, although it’s currently assessed at $8.3 million.

When the FCPS officials told the audience that the renovations will be limited to the interior of the building, several people reacted angrily. What about the “curvy playground” and an enclosed “bubble” in the parking lot housing a play area?, one parent asked. An illustration of those features was included in a PowerPoint presentation shown at a Bailey’s PTA meeting in September.

Several parents accused FCPS of sending mixed messages and not being transparent.

FCPS’s attorney working on this project, John McGranahan Jr., of Hunton & Williams, said the land use approval process for addressing changes to the outside of the building would take too long if the building is to be ready for students next September.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to determine at its Dec. 4 meeting whether the property, which is zoned for commercial uses, can be used as a school. If the proposal is approved, the school board will proceed with its plans to acquire the property, FCPS instructional staff will determine what programs and grades the building will serve, and the FCPS facilities staff will begin working with an architect to design the interior.

Meanwhile, FCPS will also begin the rezoning and proffer process necessary to gain approval for modifying the exterior and constructing a playground and other outdoor facilities. “There is no way we could open next September if we had to get approvals for modifying the outside,” said McGranahan. There would be extensive public outreach meetings before changes are made to the exterior.

Before the interior is reconfigured for classrooms, FCPS instructional officials will need to decide which programs and grade levels will be housed in the building, Sneed said, although he thinks it makes sense to put the upper grade levels there.

There will be space for music, science, art, and physical activities, as well as classrooms, a cafeteria, and library, he said. Everything inside, such as the lighting, floors, and walls, will be new. The exterior would not be changed other than to possibly add some basketball hoops in the parking lot.

“We’re at warp speed” on this project,” Platenburg said. “A lot of stars need to align to get this open next fall.”

The office building project won’t have an immediate impact on any other schools. “This project is solely aimed at addressing overcrowding at Bailey’s,” said Mason school board member Sandy Evans.

Several years down the road when the land and money are available for a new school, there would be a boundary adjustment affecting many other schools. At that point, there would be an extensive outreach process to solicit community input, Platenburg said.

The Nov. 27 meeting was targeted to nearby residents, and several people raised concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety issues.

Sneed assured the residents that school buses won’t be driving through their neighborhood. About 10 to 14 buses would serve the new building. While the majority of students walk to Bailey’s, the new location means a lot more of them will need to be bused.

Gross noted there will be lot fewer vehicles at the building if it’s used as a school than when it housed 400 Fairfax County employees in several health and social services programs. The building has been vacant since those offices moved to the Heritage complex on Little River Turnpike in Annandale in 2012. Long-term plans call for those offices to be moved to a new county office building planned for Bailey’s Crossroads.


  1. If the kids do have to be stuck in a converted office building, the county might as well do it right and get some eminant domain going on that useless Sears next door for a new playground.

  2. Sounds like a good idea. Where would extra land show up years from now. It is mostly filled up now.

  3. So instead of enforcing the laws that the County has on the books we will be spending 8 to 9 million to maybe temporarily put kids in an office building. We could save our money make our schools less overcrowded by just enforcing the laws. Our County has kids living and sleeping in closets and dresser drawers but we ignore those issues now we are putting our children in an old office building instead of giving them the schools they deserve.

  4. "Our County has kids living and sleeping in closets and dresser drawers "

    it is indeed a bad thing that we have so little affordable housing. Or is that not what you meant? Where DO you think the poor should live? In DC and PG, I guess.

  5. Is it safe to have a school located on a 6-lane major road?

  6. The only problem with this idea is the mental block many might have against an urban style school building. It seems like a great reuse for the structure and very cost effective. It should be viewed as a permanent solution, not simply an expensive qwonset hut until a more "traditional" building can be constructed. Done right, this will be a huge asset to the area, FCPS and a blueprint for future dense growth designs.

  7. It's a problematic location in a commercial district with heavy traffic congestion at the 7 Corners intersection. It's also a smaller property than FCPS wants for it news urban vertical school model without adequate space for outdor play areas. It would be better for FCPS 1st attempt at the urban vertical school model if it was on a proper site and was planned/designed from the ground up instead of quickly retrofitting a commercial building.