|The Willston Center.|
The Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC) has drafted a resolution and a petition urging the BoS to give back the Willston Center.
The issue has taken on increased urgency as residents have learned that Fairfax County is moving forward with plans to build a county office building on the Willston site.
The need for a new school in Mason District is expected to surface at a school board work session Jan. 12 on the FCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
School board member Sandy Evans, who represents the Mason District, supports getting the Willston Center back. Superintendent Karen Garza made a formal request to do that last month. “We have been wanting that site back as a good, viable option for a school for a long time. We are once again reiterating having it back,” Evans says.
She is also interested in pursuing the idea of a “community school,” which would incorporate some social or health services that would serve Willston area residents as well as schoolchildren.
The Board of Supervisors, however, is not interested in giving the Willston property to FCPS and is instead proceeding with plans for the East County Office Building on that spot. Mason Supervisor Penny Gross has stated her opposition to using the Willston site for a school and instead prefers having a school on the Columbia Pike/Moncure Avenue site.
A mixed-use redevelopment proposal for that property includes land for a new school as part of a public/private partnership. The BoS is holding a public hearing on the proposal Jan. 13.
While Evans prefers the Willston site – it’s larger and there’s space for an athletic field – she believes both sites should be pursued. The Columbia Pike site would provide relief for Glen Forest Elementary School, which is severely overcrowded, and would also provide relief for Parklawn and Belvedere. “We need to do more engagement with parents,” she says.
“We clearly need more seats in Mason district. That’s the bottom line,” Evans said. “The more options we have, the better.”
The MDC resolution opposes the construction of the East County Office Building on the Willston site and urges Gross “to take immediate and necessary steps to ensure that the Board of Supervisors return the former Willston School site to the Fairfax County School Board.” The Willston Center had been a school until 1983, and FCPS transferred it to the county in 1985.
The Seven Corners/Bailey’s Crossroads area desperately needs a new school because almost all schools in the Mason District are at or over capacity, many more will exceed capacity within the next five years, and there isn’t any land available in the area for a new school, the resolution states. Also, it says, new residential development proposed for the area would add at least 5,000 new housing units in Seven Corners and at least 9,000 in Bailey’s Crossroads.
According to the resolution, a school would be a much better use for that property than the East County Office Building, which would cost at least $125 million. The county is facing a $179 million budget deficit, while the county has a 17 percent office vacancy rate, it says, so it would make more sense to house the county offices in leased space.
In a statement that got a lot of applause at the FCPS public hearing on the CIP last week, MDC President Mollie Loeffler suggested putting county office workers in trailers, rather than schoolchildren.
Noting that FCPS transformed an office building into a second campus for Bailey’s Elementary School, Loeffler said on behalf of the MDC: “If we can retrofit an office building for an elementary school for our children, we can certainly adapt existing vacant office space for the use of a human services office. We must put the children first.”
MDC also recommends increasing the proffer amount developers pay to offset the impact of new housing development on school capacity and even higher proffers for building new housing in areas where the schools are already over capacity.
FCPS Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Platenburg recently proposed raising the proffer from $10,825 to $11,749 for each expected school-age child. According to Loeffler, the actual cost per student is over $22,000.
Additionally, MDC recommends revising the method for calculating how many new students would be generated by new housing construction – and that a different formula should be used in areas like Mason District that have a lot of multifamily housing development. Currently, the county requires a single formula be used across the whole county.
Evans told the Annandale Blog she plans to bring up a proposal to change the formula at the board’s work session on the CIP.
“They’re telling us the yields in Mason are the same as elsewhere,” Evans says. “My gut is telling me it’s going to be higher inside the beltway. We need to have a more nuanced formula that takes housing affordability into account.”
The current formula has different numbers for the expected number of elementary, middle, and high school students in different types of housing. For example, the current capacity yield is .325 students per unit in a low-rise multifamily complex, .530 for a single family detached house, and .100 for a unit in a high-rise.