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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Proposed county policy would allow urban schools in high-density areas

Bailey's Upper Elementary School opened in a converted office building on Leesburg Pike two years ago.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing Nov. 1 on a new policy to allow the development of “urban” or “vertical” schools in high-density areas or on parcels of limited size.

The policy change would also amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow the “co-location of schools with other public uses, such as a library or a recreational center,” and the “co-location of different levels of education and other types of programs in one structure.” The co-located entities would then be able to share facilities such as the cafeteria, gym, or auditorium.

In addition, the policy would permit the adaptive reuse of buildings, such as an office or commercial building, to be used for schools, early childhood education programs, and distance learning.

And because urban schools and schools on smaller lots won’t have as much land as traditional schools, the policy would allow converted rooftops and underutilized surface parking lots to be used for outdoor recreation.

The policy change is of particular interest in Mason District, which has overcrowded schools and a lack of land available for new buildings.

The new policy was hammered out over the past several months by the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s schools committee with input from Fairfax County Public Schools staff and school board. The Planning Commission endorsed the new policy Sept. 29.

“We’re not abandoning traditional school design,” said planning commissioner Timothy Sargeant (at large). “What we are doing is creating a new tool in the toolbox.”

The policy is aimed at “schools in activity centers where there is no land to build traditional schools,” said David Stinson, of the Facilities Planning Branch in the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ). Activity centers include Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners, Tysons, Reston, and the Route 1 corridor.

The language in the plan calls for schools to have outdoor recreation space, Stinson says. “We’re not going to build a school without recreation space.”

The policy change is needed, the DPZ staff report states, because the existing plan language doesn’t provide flexibility for siting schools in urbanizing areas. The high cost of land in more dense areas is also an obstacle to the traditional school design.

Bailey’s Upper Elementary School in Seven Corners, which opened in fall 2014 in a converted office building, is considered a model for the type of urban schools that would be facilitated by the new policy.

The Mason District Council of Community Associations plans to discuss the proposed policy at its Oct. 26 membership meeting. Clyde Miller, secretary of the MDC and president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, is urging local community groups to oppose it.

By allowing schools in “surplus office buildings, in commercial areas, with outdoor recreation space confined to garage rooftops, and school sites reduced in size to the minimums allowed by the zoning ordinance,” Miller says, “the proposed policy threatens the quality of future public school facilities.” 


  1. So first the CA's oppose new development because there is not enough capacity in the schools. Then when someone proposes a way to create school capacity, they oppose it, just because.
    One wonders if the objection to development based on school capacity was in fact sincere.

  2. Upper Baileys should hardly be considered a model of excellent planning or best usage.
    A former elementary school with an existing playing field owned by the County in the immediate area was available for renovation as was done at the former Masonville Elementary School. That project is a prime example of effective , financially responsible and sensible renovation.
    Concerns about the present users of the Wilston facility could have been met by the co-location of services and programs which was suggested by the community ,ignored by County officials, and is now being promoted by this very plan.
    Urban schools were originally located in neighborhoods in which children could walk to school. While students could walk to Lower Baileys and the old Wilston School, that is not a possibility at Upper Baileys.
    The BOS and School Board are claiming that a meals tax is the only answer to saving our schools.
    Perhaps, better management, listening to the community and common sense should also be considered.

  3. I know a lot of people don't like the Bailey's school but this seems like a win-win. Kids get more schools, vacant buildings get filled.

    1. And a what was just 20 years ago a world class school system now resorts to desperate measures to house its school children. That is pitiful. Do we like pitiful? No. No we don't like pitiful, blighting proposals like this and so many others. We are not whiners, we're just not sheep and we're not stupid. That, in a nutshell, is what our problem is.

  4. If this new policy gets enacted, Mason District will get the most urban schools in the county. That's because Mason District has the most vacate commercial and office space in the county. We have a 50% vacancy rate. Just so the county can save money on schools they will put all our schools in vacate buildings and put the recreation fields on top of buildings. Schools and county officials will believe they won't have to try to find open space to put a school on. Mason District schools will not be equal to schools in other parts of the county. This policy needs to go back to the drawing board to figure out how many urban schools will each district get and what exactly will be allowed to collocate with a school?

    1. Fairfax County has long been fine with a segregated school system.

    2. How exciting... a future with shiny new schools with rooftop playgrounds surrounded by suicide fences.

      Mason District ends up with the short end of the usual.

  5. Should Mason District residents believe this? “We’re not abandoning traditional school design,” said planning commissioner Timothy Sargeant (at large). “What we are doing is creating a new tool in the toolbox.

    We all know that our Supervisor, Ms. Gross, is salivating for more high rise schools so she has land to build her human services palace.

    1. Bingo. She will stop at nothing to build the Penny Gross Center for Government Service. The East Fairfax Herrity Building, if you will.

  6. Amazing. I'm being asked to pay more in taxes to build schools I don't like for children I never had. It's always fun in Fairfax!

    1. How did you put up with yourself growing up as a child?

  7. Yay! Things keep getting better and better! Thank you immigration! /sarc