|A gym under construction at Bailey's Upper Elementary School.|
The new policy allows vertical schools on smaller than the traditional five-acre lots; schools in repurposed office or commercial buildings; and schools “co-located” in buildings with other public uses, such as a library or recreation center, or with other educational uses.
Because these schools wouldn’t have access to lots of open space, the policy would allow rooftops and surface parking lots to be used for outdoor recreation, as well as shared athletic fields overseen by the Park Authority.
“We are not allowing something that we don’t already have the right to do,” said BoS Chair Sharon Bulova. “We already have the right to establish urban schools and repurpose other buildings This policy provides guidance.”
“We must acknowledge the reality of today’s population and how we live today,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross. “Since they’re not making any more land, we have to go up. This is not a mandate; it gives us flexibility in urban areas where we don’t have the land.”
Fairfax County’s first urban school, Bailey’s Upper Elementary School, is housed in a converted office building on Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners. “Some people don’t like it,” Gross acknowledged, but “it’s a fabulous result,” and the building won a design award last month. “We made it work and we did it with in a reasonable budget in record time.” The project took just nine months to complete.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield) raised concerns about the lack of open outdoor place space at Bailey’s Upper, noting that “being outside is a key part of being in elementary school.” He also stressed the need for security at schools co-located with other uses, but in the end voted in favor of the new policy.
A gym is under construction at Bailey’s Upper, and part of the parking lot will be converted to an outdoor play space.
“We’re recognizing a fact – our communities and neighborhoods are changing,” said Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence). When the Mosaic District was built in Merrifield, there had been a plan to build a fence separating it from Luther Jackson Middle School, she said. “But we eventually decided it is part of the community.”
“Most of our growth will be in activity centers,” Smyth said. “This is just a recognition of reality.”
“Education and learning are not tied to a specific facility,” said Supervisor Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon). “This is about being flexible in the environment we have.”
“It’s what we’re doing inside with kids that matters most,” said Catherine Hudgins (Hunter Mill). “That’s more important than what happens outside.”
“We need to be realistic going forward. We need to get kids out of trailers,” said Jeff McKay (Lee). “We don’t have a lot of five-acre sites left. People want to live in urbanizing areas, and having a school within walking distance is a good thing.”
There were just two speakers at the BoS public hearing on the policy. Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association in Mason District, urged the board to reject the policy. Reducing outdoor recreation space to rooftops and parking lots would threaten the quality of schools, he said. Rob Whitfield said all schools need to have both indoor and outdoor recreational space.