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Friday, December 13, 2013

FCPS officials share plans for office building school design

A rear view of the office building to be transformed into a school.

Fairfax County Public Schools officials shared some of their thinking about how the annex to Bailey’s Elementary School, in an office building at 6245 Leesburg Pike, might look and function at a meeting with parents Dec. 12. The new building will serve about 400 students in grades 3-5, beginning in fall 2014.

School Board member Sandy Evans said she hopes FCPS will be able to take ownership of the building by the end of the year and that the school system will be able to purchase it rather than have to acquire it through eminent domain.

Although none of this has been finalized, FCPS Cluster 3 Assistant Superintendent Douglas Tyson presented a conceptual overview of the current thinking on the school design. The center of the L-shaped building will be used for common spaces, while classrooms will be at the ends, he said.  

The cafeteria would be on two levels and would have small tables, giving it more of a cafĂ© feel than an institutional dining hall. The library/media center would have digital resources, as well as books, to meet the needs of all Bailey’s students, many of whom don’t  have computers at home.

The classrooms and other facilities in the new building will meet the size and other specifications for any FCPS school, Tyson said. To ensure security, there won’t be any classrooms on the first floor. The architectural firm, Cooper Carry, would bring in acoustical engineers to address noise levels in the building.

Bailey’s Principal Marie Lemon said the building will provide all of the services required for Bailey’s status as a magnet school for the arts and sciences, such as a TV production studio and spaces for music, dance, and other physical activity.

Tyson emphasized that the new building will be part of Bailey’s Elementary, not a separate school, and that Lemon will be the only principal. He also said the two buildings could be called something like the east and west campus of Bailey’s but he hopes the community will come up with a more creative idea for naming the buildings.

Lots of issues need to be worked out, he said, including the possibility of staggered start times to make it easier for parents with children at both buildings, the configuration of the kiss and ride area for parents dropping off their children, and whether there would be a shuttle between the two campuses.   

The outdoor play space also needs to be figured out, he said, and that will be done with people who live near the building. “We want to make sure it’s going to be in the best interests of the children at Bailey’s and we also want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

Charges to the grounds require a lengthier planning and approval process, which won’t be completed before school starts next fall. “There is plenty of space out there for outdoor recreation,” Tyson said.

When asked if  there will be improvements at the existing Bailey’s building, Tyson said, “We have every intention of making some improvements here, as well,” but no decisions have been made on that. He also said there will need to be more space for the School-Age Child Care program, but doesn’t know if it will be at the old or new building.

Regarding the possibility of a boundary change, Evans said, “this is a Bailey’s solution” and there won’t be any changes for next year. She said a boundary study is a lengthy process that would take more than a year.

A tab on Bailey’s website will provide updates on the building project, as well as a form for parents to submit questions. Evans addressed some issues in a FAQ document.

Brian Butler, the principal of Mason Crest Elementary School, which opened in fall 2012, shared some insights on the process of developing a new school. Butler was hired after the school was already designed and built, but he was responsible for ordering the furniture, technology, and other equipment. A “new school committee” with representatives from many FCPS departments was very helpful, he said.

Mason Crest drew students from four elementary schools, and Butler reached out to parents months before the school opened. Incoming students were invited to vote on a new playground design, school colors, and a mascot.

Rock Rockenbach, the Parent Teacher Organization president at Mason Crest, said he, like many other parents, “wasn’t happy about having to leave a school we loved”—Woodburn, in his case—but the FCPS boundary study and school construction process was expertly done. “As scary as change can be and as difficult as it is to move to a new school, you can have a lot of faith that FCPS will handle this well,” he advised the Bailey’s parents.


  1. "The outdoor play space also needs to be figured out,"

    No joke. How about figuring out how to give children the exposure to the outdoors they NEED in order to become healthy, well-rounded individuals? As someone who's 32 and doesn't own a home, I truly hope the county doesn't succeed in painting opposition to this absurd plan as NIMBYism.

    "To ensure security, there won’t be any classrooms on the first floor."

    And of course, being kept away from the ground floor will sure make the place feel less like a prison.

    iPads on the inside, parking lots on the outside. A "21st-Century Learning Environment" indeed.

  2. Have you ever been inside Baileys? Its like Grand Central Station ALL THE TIME. Too many bodies in too small a space. This building will help relieve that.

    I've seen some of the conceptual drawings and it looks pretty promising. Nothing like a prison. As for outdoor space - no one has said the kids won't play outdoors. There just won't be a playground right away. The small K-8 school I went to didn't have a playground. We had recess on the blacktop parking lot for the 9 years I was there and, as far as I know, they still do. But I do hope they figure out the traffic issues and how to keep the kids buffered from Route 7.

    1. I think the plan for traffic issues is going to be "Deal with it."

      Hopefully FFXCO can at the very least recognize that traffic at that south end of Bailey's is already a nightmare and keep post-4:00 PM activity at the school to zero.

    2. But wouldn't they have to offer SACC for kids with working parents? That would mean traffic to the school up through 6pm.

  3. Apparently not many people have gone to elementary, middle, or high schools in a "city" as opposed to a "suburb" City schools are vertical and have paved playgrounds and other non-suburban features like neighboring buildings, streets, traffic. Things that prepare children for the real world instead of the helicopter bubbles children are raised in today.

    1. Many residents here moved out of cities to avoid exactly this type of environment. Years ago, I attended a vertical high school in a city and there was nothing particularly special about it nor do I feel it offered me any extra preparation for the "real world" over children coming out of traditional schools in the suburbs.

    2. For many of us it is not the issue of an urban or city school design. The concern is this was a decision made out of crisis, without proper planning and forethought or community involvement.

  4. I love the idea of a "lower campus" and "upper campus" for Bailey's. From the angle in the picture above, it looks like they could make a nice play space under the building, expanding it into the parking lot with a nice brick/wrought iron fence. Kids need sunshine, and I trust they'll make the outdoor space happen by September.

    1. How long do you think FCPS will realistically continue to depot bus the kids from Bailey's to this new site, to maintain the character of "two campuses"? And how long can one principal supervise and direct staff at two sites, one with 1,000 kids and the other with 700 kids? Both are huge. Penny Gross told neighbors at the 11/26 meeting at Bailey's that this new school is a new ES in Cluster 3 and not always a "Bailey's Solution." The "two campus" solution is a transition. I don't see how it could remain that way in perpetuity.

  5. There is one other area in FCPS that splits it's upper and lower grades. Kings Park ES and Kings Glen ES. Seems to work for them and they are not located next to each other.

    1. They are split but they are only a few blocks away and they are both in Elementary Schools with land for the kids to play on. Neither school is located on a main road and the schools are neigborhood schools.

  6. A vertical school inside a commercial building that was not built to be a school....that is the main idea, it works for the "BUDGET"...its ready to move in? A few make up and good to go?...Later wil figure out how to make it look as a school by building playgrounds?.. is that what we offer to our kids, is that how we work with the community? Is this the idea for seven corners area traffic relief?
    To me seems a desperate solution that will bring more traffic to the area. Have you ever been in seven corners at pic hours?

  7. Regarding outdoor play space for the kids in September 2014, the county won't have permits to create any play areas, so the kids won't be allowed out there. No outside play. No barriers to keep kids from the street, Route 7, no buffer, no way to keep a ball from rolling or being thrown into traffic on Route 7. There's no way FCPS could legally let those kids play outside without appropriate safety measures in place, and they won't have the legal permits to do it in time.

    It's awful.