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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

FCPS asks Fairfax County for Willston Center site for new school

The Willston Center.
Fairfax County Public Schools has formally asked the Fairfax County leadership to turn over the Willston Center in Seven Corners to FCPS for use as a school to help relieve overcrowding at other schools in the area.

In a Dec. 8 letter to County Executive Edward Long, FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza says FCPS “staff and board members, including Sandy Evans [Mason District], have articulated the need for Willston on many occasions over the past two to three years.”

The letter is a follow-up to a Dec. 1 meeting with Long, Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova, Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, and other county staff  “about our enrollment and capacity challenges in the Mason District and our specific interest in the Willston site to be used as a school in the future,” Garza writes.

The letter also notes that the school board is on record as having asked staff to pursue this at the board’s facilities work session on Jan. 14, 2013.

Garza attached an excerpt from the minutes from that session, stating that, as part of a discussion on five-year enrollment growth, capacity projections, and recommendations for new construction, capacity enhancement, renovation, and infrastructure requirements across FCPS, the board directed the staff to provide additional information, including “specific requests to send to the Board of Supervisors for property/facilities to resolve FCPS overcrowding, such as the Willston property.”

Gross has been resistant to giving the Willston property back to the school board. Last month, Gross told the Annandale Blog that the county has owned the building for 31 years, since FCPS gave it the county in 1983. It had been an elementary school until 1979. If the site is again used for a school, the outdated building would most likely would need to be replaced.

A proposal for a new school is part of a public/private development proposed for Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads, and Gross prefers that location for a school rather than the Willston site.The Fairfax County Planning Commission endorsed that project, which also includes a 250-unit apartment building Nov. 5.

The Seven Corners Task Force has proposed that the East County office building, under consideration by the county, be located at the Willston site as part of its redevelopment proposals for the area. Gross suggested that some of the nonprofit organizations currently housed in the Willston Center could be relocated to the new building.

Last year, more than 200 local residents signed a petition urging the county to transfer the Willston Center to FCPS for use as a school. 

18 comments:

  1. This would be a good spot for a pre-k thru grade 3 elementary school.....which would, of course, included a great green park!

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  2. This really is an outrage! When the Bailey's East school was forced into implementation under Ms. Gross' "leadership", there were numerous requests to consider this site. We were told it was out of the question, and that EVERY other option had been considered. Now to hear that as early as Jan 2013 this was requested for a school site. Mason District needs new leadership!

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    1. I agree, long overdue! See articles on blighted properties, buildings burning down and assault & robbery on Arcadia Rd.

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  3. This seems to be typical of FCPS strategy under Garza. Ignore the bigger picture and repeatedly keep making the same ridiculous demands for funding and space. I'm no fan of Penny Gross, but turning over a dilapidated building to the FCPS on a site that can serve a better purpose is pointless.

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    1. A better purpose? It was a school! We have a capacity issue at all school levels in Mason District which must be resolved. Why is the dilapidated homeless shelter location in Bailey's better suited for a school than this location?

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    2. It hasn't been a school since 1979! If you want to be taken seriously stop using exclamation points when they are not warranted and join us here in the 21st century!

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  4. So glad to see this letter making the rounds. Now no one at the BOS can say that the property hasn't been "officially" asked for by FCPS.

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  5. Sandy Evans, the Mason District elected FCPS School Board rep, submitted the FCPS School Board proposal that the 5-storey office building on Leesburg Pike should be converted into an elementary school to alleviate overcrowding at Bailey's ES on Knollwood Drive at the December 4, 2013 Planning Commission hearing.

    Ellie, can you please ask Sandy and Karen Garza to comment on this in light of this article and the FCPS School Board's stand on the Willston School being returned to FCPS in light of our severe overcrowding in Mason District?

    I don't understand why the FCPS School Board proposed use of the small site (3.43 acres) at 6245 Leesburg Pike on a 6-lane road, which, by everyone's estimation is substandard for an elementary school, if they and the community had also been advocating for the much larger (~6 acres) nearby site at Willston School?

    The new Upper Bailey's school at 6245 Leesburg Pike cost us $20M and counting. And it will be over capacity by 2017, by FCPS projections. Where will we put the trailers to accommodate the children?

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  6. I attended the community forum that the Mason District Council held on their survey a few years ago at AUMC. I seem to recall that someone asked about Willston at that meeting and Penny Gross flat out said that wasn't an option. Is there a recording or transcript of that meeting somewhere? Or maybe it was the idea of a joint FCPS-FCPL building with the Woodrow Wilson Library. Clearly, Penny G. has killed off a lot of good ideas from the community. My understanding is that FCPS never "officially" asked for that site because Penny G. has always made it clear she would never support it and none of the other supervisors would vote against her on something involving HER district.

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    1. Penny G. did say that the Willston Building and the the use of the Woodrow Wilson Library was not an option. The FCPS has been trying for the last several years to get the Willston Center back but has not had much success with Penny. Penny does not think that FCPS are her problem.

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  7. This article isn't that complex, so correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't Penny Gross say she wants a new school built at Bailey's? And didn't she also say that the Willston School would have to be torn down because its too dilapidated? So, I don't see the reason for any controversy.

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  8. Everything I've heard from parents and children is that Bailey's Upper School is excellent and innovative. Seems like a good idea for an area with no room for the low-level, spread-out buildings that are so common elsewhere, but not necessarily the best way to go.

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    1. I agree that the kids at Bailey's Upper are probably happy to be in a brand new space. The fact is that 3.43 acres does not give the 700 students enough space to egress a safe distance from the building in the event of a fire or other emergency -- as a result, the children and staff will have to walk through a gate in the fence with the adjoining property and stand in the parking lot of the medical office building next door. And when the gym and outdoor play spaces are built in the current parking lot, where will the teachers and staff park their cars? Where will parents park for PTA meetings and/or evening school events?

      In addition, this school will be over capacity in two years. Bailey's Upper is a $20M stop-gap to alleviate severe overcrowding at one elementary school in Mason District. Other elementary schools in our cluster remain overcrowded with no relief in sight. The middle schools and high schools are also overcrowded. See page 43-46 of the Comprehensive Plan for population details about our cluster, and all of Fairfax County -- http://www.fcps.edu/fts/planning/cip/cipbook2015-19.pdf

      I think folks are frustrated with how our county leadership is (not) listening to the community and (not) planning ahead in the best interests of everyone in Mason District.

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  9. Denise Patton12/10/14, 5:12 PM

    When I left the Mason District Building last week my thoughts turned to how that piece of property is so poorly used. A one story building with parking sprawl. I would like to see the Willston School site returned to FCPS and FFC take a look at how it can improve its current government building locations instead of taking on new locations around the area. The Mason District Building should be multi level with stacked parking. Housing for other government services could be accommodated in this location and consolidate FFC business in one convenient location.

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  10. Denise Patton12/10/14, 5:18 PM

    "When I left the Mason District Building last week my thoughts turned to how that piece of property is so poorly used. A one story building with parking sprawl. I would like to see the Willston School site returned to FCPS and FFC take a look at how it can improve its current government building locations instead of taking over new locations around the area. Clearly, the Mason District Building should be multi level with stacked parking. Housing for other government services could be accommodated in this location and consolidate FFC business in one convenient location."

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  11. Strongly endorse again utilizing the site for its original purpose (which it served successfully for over 20 years), replacing the building, if necessary, but capitalizing on the location (open space, proximity to large number of families with children, proximity to transportation infrastructure, etc.).

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  12. The Mason District Council of Community Associations had this meeting recorded, but sadly the person only covered the panelists "answering" questions and did not capture the complete frustration of our district residents. Since then, we always video our Forums and the audience in particular. www.masondistrict.org has these videos under "past meetings."

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  13. In your December 9 blog piece, FCPS asks Fairfax County for Willston Center site for new school, Supervisor Gross is reported to have “…told the Annandale Blog that the county has owned the building for 31 years, since FCPS gave it the county in 1983.” If memory serves, FCPS did ¬not give the County the Willston school property. The County took it by capitalizing on a long forgotten technical mechanism. FCPS had listed it on their “Surplus” list. At that time, any FCPS facility on the list could be purchased, without negotiation or hearing, for $1.00 by any County authority. The School Board (SB) was taken unawares and the transfer of the property took place legally, though, perhaps, not what some of us may think of as ethically. When the SB placed the property on the “Surplus” list, it’s intention was not to offer it up to other County authority but, to keep it if an when additional classroom space was needed. The need for more elementary school space arose less than ten years later. In those days SB members were appointed by members of the Board of Supervisors; they were not elected. SB members were not as savvy about the technicalities of many FCPS related subjects such as SB owned properties and may not have represented or advocated for the constituency as they do today. Or, perhaps they were advocates of their constituency, which was the Board of Supervisors.

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