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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gross outlines vision for community school at Willston Center

The main entrance to the Willston Center.
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross has outlined a vision for a school at the Willston Multicultural Center that would be attached to a building providing a variety of community services.

In her “A Penny for Your Thoughts” column published in the Falls Church News-Press April 16, Gross said she has been working with school board member Sandy Evans on “a concept that can provide a win/win/win for schools and the community when future redevelopment opportunities [for Seven Corners] are planned and funded.”

“The rough concept would have two attached buildings – a four or five-story elementary school for 500 students, and a mirror image building with room for the existing child care center, perhaps two floors for the multicultural center, and other floors hosting some county human services focused on the student population,” Gross writes.

“The multicultural center portion could host a computer cafĂ© or ‘hot spot’ and include some sort of food service,” the column continues. “A playground could serve both the school and the child care center.”

Noting that the project would require a parking deck, Gross says, the acre-and-a-half triangular asphalt parking lot between the Willston Center and Route 50 is owned by the owner of the Seven Corners Shopping Center, so there would have to be a public/private partnership to use that property for parking.

Evans sent a message to Mason District residents April 17 stating, “I’m very pleased to be working with Supervisor Penny Gross in developing a concept for a true community school along with other services at the old Willston school site.”

“Many community members have expressed a desire for this site to be used for a new school, which will be greatly needed in Mason District,” Evans says. “This new idea responds to that desire while expanding and adding other important services.” Fairfax County school officials have been requesting the site be returned to the school board to address severe overcrowding in Mason District schools.

For the past couple of years, Gross had opposed a school at the Willston site – preferring instead that a county office building be constructed there and a new elementary school be included in a redevelopment project slated for Moncure Avenue in Bailey’s Crossroads. In February, during the launch of her re-election campaign, Gross suggested the Willston site could be used for a school. 

“For three years, local families and teachers have been asking Supervisor Gross to convert Willston into a school,” says Jessica Swanson, who is running against Gross in the Democratic primary.

“The land was originally gifted for use as a school, and almost half of our elementary schools in Mason District will exceed their capacity within five years,” Swanson says. “But in the face of all that, Gross refused to consider this solution as recently as December. I launched my campaign against her this spring. Setting aside motives, her about-face is good news for our community.”

Mollie Loeffler, who is running against Gross as an independent, calls the proposal for a school at the Willston site “a step in the right direction.”

“Finally Supervisor Gross is starting to respond to years of public pleas,” Loeffler says. “The Mason District Council, PTAs, parents, community members, and Fairfax County Public School officials have been working tirelessly to convince her to return the Willston site to the school board. I am proud to have played a part in giving the community a voice in this matter during my tenure as chairman of the Mason District Council. I announced my candidacy for supervisor at the Willston site to drive home this point.”

The need for a school at the Willston site was a major topic at a Schools Forum in February hosted by the council.

The Willston building was constructed in 1951 as an elementary school and was transferred to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1983. The building is not in good enough condition to be renovated.

The proposed comprehensive plan amendment for Seven Corners, as approved by the Seven Corners Task Force, calls for the area around the Willston Center to be redeveloped with a mix of multifamily housing, retail, office/hotel uses, and public open space.

A revised draft of the plan, dated April 3, 2015, presents two options for the five-acre Willston Center site:
  • Option A calls for a new East County Government Center providing human services to the local community with residential uses, office space, and community-serving recreational/cultural space on the upper floors.
  • Option B recommends “office or public facility use, such as an educational, cultural, governmental, and/or human services use to support the local community.”
Gross says, “Option B is the preferred approach.”

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the Seven Corners redevelopment proposal for May 7. The Board of Supervisors hearing would take place June 23.

29 comments:

  1. This is merely a transparent effort by Penny to appease her critics by belatedly acceding to their demands for a school at Willston while preserving her increasingly unrealistic proposal for an East County Office Building. There's currently no money in the cash strapped Fairfax budget for a so-called "multicultural enter". Moreover, there's a glut of existing office space in the county to house offices for social services. Mason clearly needs more classroom space and that should be the focus of development at Willston. This is clearly just an election year ploy. Mason cannot afford four more years of Penny's spendthrift policies. It's time to send her packing and elect someone who can prioritize instead of simply throwing money around.

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    1. Great way to look a gift horse in the mouth! Skepticism will only get you so far; if you're wise, you'll take her words and RUN with them. If she's still in office after the elections, put your whine-fest on hold and use them as leverage!

      Sure, it probably won't be easy, but as Loeffler said, it's a step in the right direction.

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  2. #electionyearpolitics

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  3. Both Loeffler and Swanson want to spend money at Willston. And neither have any concept of budget management.

    How is that different?

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    1. I don't care about Swanson. However, this is from Loeffler's website:

      "It makes no sense to build new County office buildings we can't afford when the County is suffering its highest office vacancy rate in 23 years and our schools are overcrowded.."

      Loeffler seems to have sensible budget priorities. On the other hand, Penny is merely pandering to the electorate. She had no intention of backing a school for Willston until her opponents made it politically untenable for her to continue opposing the project. Now she's using jargon like "multicultural" to deflect from the fact that she's still committed to building an expensive and entirely unnecessary office complex at Willston. Fairfax can no longer afford Penny's pretensions.

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    2. Seems like Mollie has solved the problem: use the vacant office space for schools like Baileys.

      Brilliant! Build schools for less than $100 per square foot of construction cost vs. $175/sf for new construction.

      Great idea, Mollie. Bailey's has been a resounding success. Build upon that great idea!!

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  4. So this is the answer from Penny take away the land for the elementary kids to have playing field and playground to make cafe and a day care. A day care can be placed in another location. There is plenty of empty space around the county for government social service office. This space should be solely made for a school. The only reason Penny is agree to this much is because she knows she has actually competition this year for her Supervisor spot. Penny has to go. Keep in mind during election that Penny and her buddy Sharon Bulova are two peas in a pod. Vote both of them out.

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    1. You do realize that there is a daycare center in the Willston building now, don't you? And that there are other human services provided there, too? So it has been for 20 years. And there hasn't been a school there for 30 years. And the property belongs to the county, not FCPS. If you want a school there, you need to acknowledge that it's not coming into a vacuum.

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  5. Mason Mom: You're absolutely right. Penny has been riding to reelection on Bulova's coattails for years. The problem, though, is that Bulova is still highly popular and is running virtually unopposed. So, the trick will be top isolate Penny and force her to run on her virtually non-existent record. I hope Mollie Loeffler has a strategy for doing that.

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    1. Ms. Loeffler just wants to spend your money on expensive schools!!

      And where does she REALLY stand on land use issues. Is she for development or against it. She proudly writes editorials against development - check her website.

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  6. What a big ploy Penny is playing. The only thing she giving is “a concept that can provide a win/win/win for schools and the community when future redevelopment opportunities [for Seven Corners] are planned and funded.” This is a 40 year plan people! Are our kids going to wait for their children to go to this new school?

    Something needs to happen now! The county could return the land to FCPS and a school could be funded and built in 5 years. I desperately hope people are not being fooled by Penny's disingenuous play of words. Please please don't give us Gross another four years. Mason District is going down and Penny is fine with that. She thinks she has lots of accomplishments, but everything she lists was done by someone else. That doesn't stop Penny from claiming it and showing up at the ribbon-cutting. We have had 20 years of her and nothing to show for it. Both Jessica Swanson and Mollie Loeffler are smart and competent people. They can easily learn what they don't know but they both already know how the county works or doesn't work. People please people give voters a choice between Jessica and Mollie in November. Vote for Jessica in the Democratic primary on June 9 and then let's have debates between the two before November. I love Mason District but I can see how much more it could be. I know both Mollie and Jessica have those visions too. Let's give them a chance, honestly, we can't get any worse.

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    1. Jessica Swanson was the "anyone but Penny" candidate and became superfluous when Mollie Loeffler declared her candidacy. Sawnson's agenda is to give the school board all the money it demands. That's it. Taxpayers can't afford that sort of naivete and Mason certainly deserves better than to be represented by a political neophyte.

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  7. And what EXACTLY is Loeffler proposing other than "giving" Willston to the schools? How does that REALLY address the educational issues. I'd venture to say Jessica is 1000% more qualified on education issues. Neophyte? Leading a bunch of MDC whiners qualifies Molly as a neophyte as well.

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    1. If Penny's actions on the Bailey's Crossroads SE Quadrant are an indicator, then what she outlined for Willston won't stick. Penny turned her back on community plans for SEQ written in 2007. Her changed plans were approved by the BOS in January 2015 despite pleas from community residents, including Springdale, the very community in the SEQ.

      Now the January SEQ plan approved by the BOS is out and something new is in the works.

      Can't trust anything Penny says. No doubt Willston is an political ploy. Her competitors are running on the theme that Penny doesn't listen and so suddenly Penny "listens" and tells people what they want to hear. She is disingenuous at best.

      Time to get a new supervisor.

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    2. Being a Mom with two children in school (one in Bailey's Upper) and leading the charge on poor decisions on Mason District land use definitely qualify Mollie as an experienced community leader.

      Bark up another tree.

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    3. LOL to Anon 2:58 "Jessica is 1000% more qualified". Mollie does more in a year than Swanson has done in a lifetime. Don't lump in Mollie with Swanson. Mollie is no "anybody but Penny" candidate, she stands on her own merits and leadership experience.

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  8. It doesn't appear that Penny is taking Jessica Swanson too seriously. One of Penny's door knockers showed up at my home with a xeroxed flyer extolling all of Penny's monumental accomplishments. That's a pretty low budget approach even for a primary. It looks like Penny is saving her pennies for the real campaign battle with Mollie.

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  9. I got a fancier version; a 4 color print flyer. It takes credit for FCPS and Park Service successes.

    It extolls "Advocating for Seniors", but Annandale Senior Day Care is getting cut among other things.

    The flyer says "Championing outstanding schools", but a bunch of Mason District elementary schools and JEB Stuart are on academic probation.

    The flyer claims "Reducing traffic congestion". That is a sick joke, really sick.

    Also says, ensuring safe communities. 7 Corners and Bailey's with Culmore have the highest density of poverty in the state of Virginia along with the obvious crime and gang behavior.

    Need I go on? Twenty years of Gross mismanagement. No solutions. Continuous decline.

    All that has really happened is that Penny has become a geezer. Sorry, but I have had my Penny's worth.

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    1. 7 Corners and Bailey's have the highest density of poverty in all of VA? Hyperbole much? Have you actually ventured outside the capital beltway?

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    2. Mason District Resident4/20/15, 10:18 AM

      Virginia's rural and Hampton Roads poverty probably cannot even touch the density that Bailey's has - in terms of people per square mile.

      So yes, it is reasonable to posture that Bailey's has a high concentration of poverty, possibly the highest in Virginia.

      And census and other statistical numbers DO NOT tell a complete story.

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    3. Mind linking your data? Because I tried finding some info to back up your claim and couldn't find much. I'm open to being corrected.

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    4. Read the report in the attached link. Enlightening.

      https://www.dss.virginia.gov/geninfo/reports/agency_wide/poverty_short.pdf


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    5. Please correct me here but there is no mention of Baileys, Culmore, 7 corners, or Mason at all in that article. The example it uses for intradistrict/city poverty disparity is Richmond.

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    6. Exactly. That was the point.

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    7. Ah, ok got it. I thought you were the same guy.

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  10. The idea of having a community services building next to a school is a very bad idea.

    Who knows how many sex offenders/pedophiles will have that-much-easier access to children.

    The school needs to have it's own building and land with nothing else attached or on the grounds.

    What happened to the community center on Moncure proposal?

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  11. Avalon wants to build rental units there. Avalon is playing NIMBY.

    Too bad, because this is the location for the current homeless shelter. It is accepted in that location, it is accessible by bus and it is certainly the right geographic area for people who need services. The medical and dental clinics are in the tall building in this parcel. They would have to be relocated to an undetermined location just as well will the homeless shelter.

    The constant shuffling of services and money spent on ill-conceived planning is depleting tax dollars that could be used for the services themselves. FFX County wastes a lot of our money.

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  12. If you constantly claim that the 6,000 units planned for 7 Corners are going to attract milinials, why would you put a multicultural/human Services Center there?

    There is plenty of space in the Skyline/Baileys/Culmore corridor which would be accessible for many of those needing the services.

    One of the distinct advantages of the Wilston site for a school is green space and yet Penny is still pushing her agenda to build over it.

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    1. I suspect that the "multicultural" center part is just window dressing added to support the construct of an ECOB that would otherwise be dead. I suspect Penny's base includes a hard core group dedicated to build an ECOB as part of their vision for spending your tax money to save the world. Now that the Trolley Folly is over, Penny may also see an ECOB as her signature project. Regardless, Mollie opposes this concept and that's good enough for me.

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