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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

School board to consider renovation funds for Falls Church High School

Falls Church High School
The Falls Church High School community plans to show up in force—wearing school colors—at a Fairfax County School Board meeting Jan. 23 to support measures proposed by school board members Sandy Evans (Mason) and Patty Reed (Providence) aimed at moving the school closer to renovation.

The board is scheduled to discuss the proposed FCPS Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which outlines the school construction, renovation, infrastructure, and capacity enhancement projects to be undertaken over the next five years. The meeting is at Luther Jackson Middle School, and the CIP is listed on the agenda for 8:15 p.m

One of the amendments proposed by Evans and Reed calls for a total of $3.32 million in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 for renovation planning at Falls Church High School (FCHS).

A previously scheduled five-year assessment of the school’s facilities needs didn’t happen this summer as scheduled, which means the school currently isn’t on track to be renovated until 2022.

Another amendment proposed by Evans and Reed would make renovation of the “legacy high schools” a high priority for full funding in the CIP and calls for FCPS to secure funding for the renovation of these schools in the 2017 bond referendum.

The five legacy schools were all built in the 1960s and are the only FCPS high schools that have not yet undergone complete renovation. In addition to Falls Church, they include Langley, West Springfield, Herndon, and Oakton. FCHS is the oldest of the five and the only one never included in a school bond. It was built as a middle school in 1960, repurposed as a high school in 1967, and was partially renovated in 1988.

The amendment says it’s critical to make renovation of legacy schools a priority because their outdated science and computer labs make it difficult to meet 21st century curriculum standards and because the quality of school facilities has an impact on student learning, student and teacher attendance, and teacher retention.

Falls Church educators, parents, and students have long complained about the obsolete, and in some cases unhealthy and unsafe, condition of the facilities at the school. They charge the school has been unfairly placed too far down on the list of schools on the FCPS “renovation queue.”

“The constant, and too often losing, battle that a deteriorating, antiquated building imposes on our staff and students is demoralizing,” FCHS parent Holly Williams told the school board at a hearing earlier this month.  “For example, there is not enough computer lab space for our growing and popular computer science program. Where will we get the space? The message to FCHS seems to be, ‘just make do and wait.’”

The science labs at Falls Church are too small and out of date, Williams said. Electrical circuits trip because they can’t support the demand, and students don’t always get to have hands-on experiences during labs because of lack of space. 

The heating/cooling system is in desperate need of replacement, she said. “Classrooms can get so hot, they can burn a hand on a door knob or melt a chocolate bar on a desk or so cold that winter coats have to be worn in class.”

In what is likely the most alarming problem, the school’ antiquated facilities pose a safety threat to students with disabilities. “FCHS has the largest number of physically disabled students in wheelchairs, more than any other school in the county, yet there is no sprinkler system in the building,” Williams said, and that puts these students at risk in case of fire.  

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