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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Supervisors approve flexible school designs for urban areas

A gym under construction at Bailey's Upper Elementary School. 
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 1 unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan to permit more flexible school designs in urban areas.

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. 

4 comments:

  1. “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.” Very true, but what this decision clearly communicates is that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors do not have is the judgement and concern for our schools and for the reputation of our county that we so badly need from our county leadership. The message here is: “Our developers come first, schools, citizen and neighborhoods are not our priority. Let them eat cake. They can make do with used office space.” It is just that kind of thinking that makes so much empty office space available for second class school buildings.

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    1. I don't understand how you keep saying that developers hold all power in Mason District. I see far more activity of developers setting up shop in Tyson's, Arlington, Reston, etc. Cranes everywhere. Avalon Bay just backed out of their one project in Mason District. Developers are not welcome in Mason Distrct whatsoever.

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    2. If that is the case, why don't we stop waiting to them to rescue us and just clean up the place and enforce the written code uniformly across all of Mason District? Just clean it up.

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  2. “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.””
    With that, I remind readers that Fortune Magazine named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" six years in a row. “Awards” are more often than not a means for the awarding agency to ingratiate itself to a poorly performing awardee in need of image polishing. Sharon and Penny are brimming with “awards”. Hardly a day goes by without someone honoring one or both of them with some such award but awards are beside the point. What really matters is that families with options looking for neighborhoods in Northern Virginia will bypass Mason District’s high-rise/used office building “Urban” schools for real schools with playgrounds on the ground, not on the roof, surrounded by residential, not commercial property.

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