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Sunday, December 8, 2013

School board member Evans addresses concerns on office building school

Mason School Board member Sandy Evans released the following Q & A about the use of an office building on Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners to relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. 

The school board approved a resolution Dec. 5 to acquire the building, using eminent domain if necessary, and retrofit it for use by students beginning next September. The Fairfax County Planning Commission also approved use of the building for a school Dec. 5. While many Bailey's parents and staff support the project, there is a great deal of opposition among residents of the nearby Sleepy Hollow Manor and Buffalo Hill communities.

Bailey’s Overcrowding Solution: Questions and Answers, by Sandy Evans

Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences has been dealing with severe overcrowding for many years now, and FCPS has been working on finding solutions. We currently have 1,331 students at Bailey’s, with a projected population of 1,593 by the 2017-2018 school year. We currently have 19 trailers at the school, and have had to take half of the school library for classroom space, an unprecedented situation.

We now believe we have found a solution for Bailey’s that will work, and we are moving forward to develop a plan. For some time, we looked for acreage anywhere near the Bailey’s Crossroads/Culmore area to support a traditional school structure, even hired an outside consultant to do a complete search, but there simply wasn’t appropriate land available. So we turned to the idea of an urban-style school, using previous commercial space.

FCPS has identified a building at 6245 Leesburg Pike that lends itself to such an urban model, and we are actively pursuing buying it. We hope to complete a purchase this month. This new style of course raises many questions in the minds of both Bailey’s parents and staff, as well as neighbors of the building, and I will try to answer as many of those as possible here.

Q. Will this be a Bailey’s-only solution or will it involve other surrounding schools?
This building is intended to solve the Bailey’s overcrowding problem. If we are successful in opening a new school at the site in the fall of 2014, as we are hoping, only Bailey’s students will be going to the new school.

Q. What about overcrowding at other schools in the area? Aren’t you looking at a second new school? 
We do have overcrowding at other schools, particularly Glen Forest ES, and FCPS currently sees the potential need for another school in Mason District down the road. Our aim is add another elementary school to the area within the next seven years. We are also looking at other solutions for overcrowding, such as additions to existing schools. This is based upon trends in the overall area, coupled with potential development associated with re-visioning in this part of the county.

The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) serves as the vehicle to reflect enrollment trends and how those trends are to be addressed. We will continue to monitor, through the capital improvement process, future enrollment trends, potential redevelopment impact trends, and the approach to address capacity requirements.

Q. Where will the money come from for the second school?
We would need to include this in a future bond. The CIP, which the School Board approves annually, will need to reflect this by early 2015. It should be noted that there are five other regions of the county in which student growth is projected to be more severe than this region, which the board will need to consider as they move forward with the CIP.

Q. Should Sleepy Hollow Elementary School parents near the new school anticipate that their kids will eventually be redistricted to the new school? 
At this time there are no considerations to move students from Sleepy Hollow ES into the new school. Sleepy Hollow is not projected to have an overcrowding problem in the next several years, so there is no need to reassign students from that school. When the second new school is eventually constructed, there is certainly the possibility that a regional elementary boundary study would be conducted.

Q. How much traffic will the new school bring to that area? What routes will buses take and at what time of day? Will any of the access roads or traffic lights in the area be changed?
We are currently reviewing the school bus transportation routes, traffic patterns, and possible bell schedules. We should have recommendations in the spring.

Q. Will there be a playground outside when the new school opens? When can we expect to see one?
The outdoor play area is subjected to a different approval process than the building. It is our intent to begin that process in March. We believe that the determination of the types and location of the outdoor spaces will need to be conducted in a collaborative manner among the school staff, the parents, and the adjoining property owners. If the approval process does not experience any delays, it could be possible to begin construction in the late fall of 2014.

Q. What about indoor gymnasium space? Where will the children get exercise during the day?
The architects will work to design internal activity spaces to meet requirements for physical education. As the planning develops over the next few weeks, we will be able to provide more clarity to this question.

Q. Will FCPS be trying to cut through cul‐de‐sacs to get to the new building?
No, FCPS has no desire to cut through cul‐de‐sacs.

Q. Will there be enough parking spaces at the new site for teachers and parents?
There are currently 280 parking spots at the building—more than twice the amount that currently exists at Bailey’s (110). It is our intention to construct the outdoor play area within a portion of the parking area which would result in a parking space count approximately equal to Bailey’s.

Q. Some people are upset at the idea of putting a school in a five‐story commercial space. What reassurance can you give students, families, and neighbors about the appropriateness of this building as a school for elementary school children?
The architects selected for this project recently opened a high school in Atlanta in an existing office building and have experience in this type of building conversion. There is sufficient space within the building to support the FCPS educational specifications—essentially the requisite quantity and sized learning and supplemental spaces to support the full program of studies.

In addition to the standard spaces each elementary school receives, it is our intention to supplement the educational program with unique features associated with the Bailey’s science and art focus as well as an expanded focus upon the use of technology. There is little question that the school will be considered a true 21st century learning environment.


  1. The citizens of the area will need to follow the developments of this project very closely. The impacts short and long term to the area are huge. Long term impacts to traffic patterns, and redistricting. This will be the first vertical school attempt in our area and there are many factors. Citizens need to be involved in every phase of this project moving forward to make it successful.

  2. Thanks to Sandy and Ellie for sharing this Q&A. We still have questions and look forward to learning more and having the opportunity to share what we learn with our community, Sleepy Hollow Manor, and begin to have input in this process. The new school site is less than 100 feet from our neighborhood, it's in our community.