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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Architect describes vision for Bailey's Elementary School annex

The back view of the Bailey's annex.
The office building on Leesburg Pike that will be converted to an elementary school to relieve severe overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School, the school’s design will accommodate a more flexible, 21st century learning concept. Classrooms will have lots of natural light, and the entrance will be repositioned to the back of the building.

Those are some of the highlights of a presentation by representatives of the Atlanta-based Cooper & Carry architectural firm at a school board work session Jan. 13. The school board purchased the building, at 6245 Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners, on Dec. 20. It will house Bailey’s students in grades 3-5, beginning September 2014.

The yellow areas are common rooms and blue areas are classrooms.
FCPS hopes to get a permit approved by Fairfax County in February so the renovation work can start in March, said Kevin Sneed, director of Design and Construction Services. “It’s going to be a very, very tight deadline.” FCPS is posting information on the project online.

When Bailey’s students were asked to draw pictures showing how the new school should be designed, they came up with some creative ideas, like a video game gallery, said Lauren Perry Ford, an associate at Cooper  & Carry.

The new school won’t have that, but it will have a black box theater, a story pit in the library, a cafeteria with small tables giving it more of a café feel, science labs, a TV studio, art rooms, two fitness rooms, and walls that can be written on.

The center of the L-shaped building will be the “main circulation spine,” with a large stairwell, Ford told board members. The common rooms would be located close to the center, with the classrooms on the far ends of the building.  There will be a multipurpose room on the first floor, and the library will be on the fifth floor. 

The existing entrance to the building is in front, facing Leesburg Pike, on the eastern corner. That doesn’t meet ADA accessibility requirements and doesn’t work for school buses, so the entrance will be shifted to the back of the building to better accommodate a bus dropoff and kiss and ride area.

There will be three or four classrooms per floor, organized into learning communities and connected by new stairways to classrooms above or below. Younger children would be in the lower levels. Sneed said some of the classrooms will be larger, in case FCPS decides to use the building for kindergartners in the future.

People generally think of an office building as dark and dreary inside, but this building is unusual in that it has large windows and lots of natural light, said Superintendent Karen Garza. All of the classrooms will have exterior windows.

Bailey’s Principal Marie Lemmon said school will have furnishings that could be easily reconfigured to accommodate flexible learning. Rather than being limited to rows of desks with the teacher lecturing in the front of the classroom, the school’s design would allow for more interactive learning, with students working on projects in small groups.

About half the classrooms will have bathrooms. Other bathrooms will be near the elevators. Children won’t be using the elevators on a regular basis, Ford said; the elevators would be primarily used by children and staff with disabilities. The renovations will include a sprinkler system.

A big issue is what to do about recreational facilities. FCPS won’t get approval to make any changes to the exterior or the building or the grounds until well after school starts next September. There will be several fitness spaces inside which together total about 5,000 square feet—which is the size of a standard school gym, Sneed said.

In addition, about half of the first floor is a protected carport, which could be used for outdoor recreation, Lemmon added. Phase 2 will include a real playground. Sneed said FCPS would like to involve the Bailey’s community and nearby residents in the design for the outdoor area.

Mason School Board member Sandy Evans noted that some neighbors had concerns about the possibility of cutting through a cul de sac behind the property and confirmed that there are no plans to do that.


  1. I am still curious to know why our county government is spending approximately $20M to buy and convert an office building into a school when there is a highly underutilized school property on the other side of Rt 50, Wilson Center. This is a poor location for an elementary school and a misrepresentation of the bond referendum we voted to build a new school. The more I hear and learn about how this came about, the more disgusted I am with my local "representatives".

    1. What was the history behind not using the Wilston Center space? I walked through that school recently and had a flashback to my elementary school days in the 1970s! Seems like the building has some great "bones" to it, but if they don't renovate, it's going to fall apart. Seems a shame to let it go to waste. Is it owned by the County? I don't know anything about its history. Thanks!

  2. Matt is right.

    No one questions that Cooper Carry is a top-rated design firm and has great ideas for this building.

    However, the facts remain that 1) this building will NEVER HAVE A GYM (the "recreation spaces" inside are not big enough to accommodate the "pacer" running tests all FCPS students must complete; the ceiling height is not higher than the standard classrooms, so there will be NO BASKETBALL and NO ball-throwing like every other elementary school in Fairfax County in the indoor "recreation" space at this school); and 2) the plan to configure parking/buses/playground on the "L" shaped lot is ever-changing.

    Of course, the building and facilities folks are doing their best to make a plan for the outdoor space, but the fact remains that it is very limited space. If the county does decide to use this building for K-5 in the future, they'll need to have outdoor play space appropriate for the little ones (K-2) in addition to any play space they build for the 3-5th graders for 2014-15. There is hardly room for one outdoor play space. It's an oddly-shaped lot. We want to be sure that the students at this school are not short-changed with respect to their PE and recess activities, which is a very important, even critical, part of elementary school and growing up.

    Additionally, community members (and FCDOT) are very concerned about the locomotion of kiss-and-ride cars and buses on this oddly-shaped lot, and how these uses will be compatible with an outdoor play area.

    Community members are also very concerned about traffic on Route 7, Castle Road and Patrick Henry Drive, the three roads likely to be used by buses and cars coming to this site.

    We all support innovation. But, we all have to recognize that there is really more wrong with this site than there is right with it. So we have to be very careful how we plan it and plan for its future use. We don't want any child in Fairfax County getting the short end of the stick when it comes to public education. We need to all approach this from the perspective of a parent with a child who will be enrolling here in the fall. FCPS has never done this before. They need our help and our input.

  3. I think FCPS needs a well prepared contingency plan if (when) the new school doesn't open on time. The FCPS director of design and construction services said it will be a "very, very tight" schedule. I think that's an understatement. I imagine the default position will be to keep the students at Bailey's until the new school is finished.