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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bailey's Upper Elementary School offers light-filled, innovative learning spaces

A science lab.
The brand new Bailey’s Upper Elementary School, retrofitted in a former office building on Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners, offers “a rich environment for learning and a rich environment for teaching,” says Jeffrey Platenberg, assistant superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools for facilities and transportation services. Pointing to all the windows and great views, he says, “the natural light makes these learning spaces come alive.”

Principal Marie Lemmon with a video display panel in the lobby.
Platenburg and Principal Marie Lemmon pointed out the school’s special features as they led a media tour of the building Aug. 27. The classrooms have smartboards plus walls that can be written on. The classrooms are arranged around open areas, with rooms on different floors connected by interstitial stairways, to facilitate teacher collaboration. Teachers have adjustable desks that can be used when the teacher is standing or sitting.

The cafeteria.
There’s a combination black box theater and reading pit and a video production studio where the morning news show, the Bailey’s News Network, will be produced and where students will also be able to record musical performances.

A reading area in the media center.
The cafeteria can hold 200 students and has an open design that promotes sociability with flexible tables that can flip and stack. Students can also sit at counters facing the trees at the back of the building. There is a “test kitchen” with the capacity to cook meals, not just heat them up.

A fitness room.
There are four exercise rooms for physical education, including one just for dance. The windows in those rooms are protected with screens to prevent balls from crashing through. A golf simulator will be installed soon. There are plans for an outdoor playground on the north side of the building.

The video production studio.
The building has new electrical wiring, new air conditioning system, a fast wireless network. Students will use the stairs, not the elevators, and will be supervised whenever they’re not in class, Lemmon says.

“It’s a wonderful learning environment,” says Sandy Evans, the Mason District representative on the school board. “The facilities staff pulled off a miracle to create this space in such a short time frame.”

Architect Lauren Ford of Cooper Cary (left) and Principal Marie Lemmon in a beanbag chair in a classroom.
“People had been suspicious of our ability to do this,” says Platenburg, referred to the plan to create an innovative learning space in an old office building. The result is “simply phenomenal,” he says. “Once members of the community see this, they will want to come here.”

Stairs connect classrooms to collaborative learning spaces.
The new school is designed for 795 students but is expected to have 96 fewer than that when school starts on Sept. 2. Students and parents will have a chance to visit their new school for the first time at an open house tomorrow.

It is one school with two campuses, Platenberg stresses. The new school will house grades 3-5, while the old Bailey’s building will have preschool through second grade. The old building will have enough room for the Head Start classes that had been relocated to the Graham Road building.

School board members Sandy Evans (Mason) and Jane Strauss (Dranesville) near the elevators.
There will be an assistant principal (AP) at each building, Lemmon says, and she and a third AP will split their time among both campuses. All three APs will be responsible for both buildings. The two buildings are 1.67 miles apart, and Lemmon says she can run from one to another in 12 minutes.

The morning buses will pick up Bailey’s Upper students at their homes and take them directly to school, Lemmon says. In the afternoon, the buses will run from Bailey’s Upper to the old Bailey’s, so the older students will be able to walk their younger siblings to their homes.

The rear of a science lab.
The new school was built to address severe overcrowding at Bailey’s, which has 19 trailers and a 12-classroom modular unit. “We had a crisis situation,” says Platenberg, who noted that FCPS had been searching for a solution for seven years.

While discussions are underway for another new school in Bailey’s Crossroads to address continuing overcrowding at Glen Forest and other nearby schools, as well as future residential development, the current project only deals with the situation at Bailey’s. “This is a Bailey’s solution,” Evans says. 

Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Platenberg in a classroom.
Any changes in the attendance boundaries are seven to 10 years down the road, Evans says. She is also pressing FCPS to revise its formula for determining school capacity, as the current formula under-counts the number of projected students in aging buildings.


  1. This is great for Baileys! Much needed. So Now we need a Glen Forest solution!! When will that happen?

  2. Just for information, the correct name is Bailey's Upper Elementary School. We're really excited to see the new space!

  3. This was a long time coming but the end result looks fabulous! I am in awe at the speed with which they were able to pull this off.

  4. Thanks, once again, for great reporting on a story of importance in our community.

  5. Thank you for the great photos and reporting! This looks fabulous for Bailey's students!

  6. Great job and congratulations to the builders, FCPS, Marie Lemmon and the entire staff at Bailey's for opening on time. The kids are excited for tomorrow!