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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

More alternatives should be considered for Justice parking lot

A rendering of the Justice High School addition.
By Nazir Bhagat

The proposal by Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Park Authority to build a parking lot in Justice Park as part of a school expansion project has led to widespread opposition among the community. 

Nearby residents have been having a hard time getting details on the project. Hopefully, some of their questions will be answered at a virtual community meeting on May 6. 

Meanwhile, here’s what we know so far about the plans to expand Justice High School:  

Scope – The 306,543-square-foot school will gain a 47,414-square-foot addition, which will include new laboratories and classrooms. The cafeteria will be expanded by 2,000 square feet, and the project also includes site and parking improvements. The available space on the campus is tight, so the addition will have three levels. The improvements will meet the education specs for a high school with 2,200 students. 

Funding – The total cost is $19,260,084. The planning funds are covered by a school bond passed in 2017; construction costs are funded by a 2019 bond.

Architect – Hughes Group Architects; contractor – TBD 

Current status – The permitting process is underway. 

Estimated completion – Fall 2023

Key decision-makers – Members of the public who want to discuss the project could contact Mason Supervisor Penny Gross and School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson (Mason).

Parking – The current Justice High School parking lot has 329 spaces. Construction of the addition will result in the loss of 66 spaces, hence the plan to build 95 parking spaces in Justice Park. FCPS says that many spaces are needed to accommodate future growth in enrollment. One can argue, why not build when the need materializes?

Based on existing parking lots, a reasonably well-designed one-acre parking lot can accommodate about 100 cars plus turning lanes, and an acre and a-half could hold 200 cars.

Here’s what the community needs to know: 
  • Has the county and/or FCPS done a parking utilization study for Justice High School? If so, how recent is it and does it reflect the current trends in multimodal transportation, ride sharing, bicycle use, and the like?  
  • How was the student parking ratio for Justice calculated and how current are its assumptions? Is the ratio based on a high school location and demographics similar to a close-in semi-urban area such as the neighborhoods within the Justice attendance area? If not, how has the ratio been adjusted to specifically fit Justice High’s future parking needs and potential alternatives?
  • May 5 is Bike to School Day, with the goal of encouraging more students to ride bicycles to school. Students biking to school, however, have declined steadily from 48 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009. Do the improvements for Justice High School include more bike racks? Are there plans for more bike lanes in the area? No student lives more than four miles from the school and 90 percent live within three miles. Why isn’t FCPS promoting ways to increase bicycling to school to make up for the 66 lost parking spaces? Increasing biking and walking, after all has health benefits.
  • Has Fairfax County and FCPS considered in its cost-benefit of alternatives, the economic cost of environmental factors, reduction of parkland, and the loss to its brand image, in its proposal for Justice High parking? 
  • Unlike Fairfax County, its more progressive competitors, such as Arlington and Alexandria, are more environmentally responsible and do more to promote trip reduction through multimodal solutions rather than overreliance on single-occupant car use to school. They also promote LEED standards (up to the Platinum level) in architecture and design, including building site plans. 
  • It is, therefore, a shame that our county, one of the richest in the country, has not considered allocating, say another 5 percent of the nearly $20 million allocated project cost, to mitigating the environmental impacts of the expansion, especially the reduction of green space and increased fossil fuel consumption.  A green roof on the planned school building would not only be good for the environment, it would also have educational benefits and would increase environmental stewardship among students.
  • For the small percentage of students who live too far to walk and can’t take a school bus or ride a bike to school, has FCPS considered adjusting the bus routes or times, rescheduling extracurricular activities, or arranging parent volunteers to serve this transportation shortfall more efficiently than dedicated car trips with parking? 
  • From a more parochial viewpoint, if one is only interested in decreasing pollution from the stormwater runoff into Lake Barcroft, using permeable concrete instead of regular concrete would cost only about $250,000 an acre extra for the parking lot. However, that money could be better spent on studying the best alternative for improving the quality of the lake, including identifying the most polluting stormwater runoff into the lake and treating that with a wet pond, underground storage, or a rain garden, if there is land available at that site.
Hopefully, enough community members will demand more answers from county bureaucrats and elected officials to do justice to both Justice High School and Justice Park.

Nazir Bhagat is a resident of Lake Barcroft and a former developer. 

10 comments:

  1. Why don't they just build a parking garage on the current site and put a green roof on the top which could be another classroom. I'm sure there are grants for this type of development. It would seem none of the questions asked in this article were asked before the architect was hired. How does one participate in the public meeting?

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  2. In older urban areas that predate stormwater controls, redevelopment offers a good opportunity to improve storm water management, i.e., 'get it right' and reduce runoff into (in this case) Tripps Run and Lake Barcroft. My problem with the county's proposal to date has been the insistence on paving over 25 percent of the flat, open space in the park, thereby replacing green spaces with asphalt (ergo, this is not really 'redevelopment'; it's more like 'new development'). Why do that in a part of the county that is least green and has highest socioeconomic needs? the county owns the parkland, the school property and the road that runs between them. There will never be a shortage of parking for park users, who tend to use the park when school is not in session and can choose to park on the street and/or existing school parking lot. So, what's in this deal for the park user? Students around there deserve both a great school AND a great park.

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  3. Is anyone surprised that FCPS considers spending $19 million as a “minor site plan”? They love spending our tax money without consulting us.

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    Replies
    1. Voters approved the spending in a bond referendum.

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    2. Voting for the concept and the funding is not the same as giving blanket approval to how the project is implemented. The point is that this is not a minor project that should avoid public scrutiny.

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  4. Access the May 6 meeting on Zoom - Meeting ID: 974 2254 3401; meeting Passcode: 288932. Phone dial-in number: 877-853-5257.

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  5. I urge every resident of thie area who has the slightest sense in their minds to attend this zoom meeting and DEMAND explanations for this uber-stupid plan.

    21 years into the 21st century and this retarded board of FCPS is planning to kill more natural resources for parking lots.

    Haven't we learned anything?

    On the verge of autonomous cars, on the verge of transfer to public transportation, on the verge of environmental awareness, we still plan to move ahead with a program to add PARKING SPACES??

    In any other place, this would cost someone his job.

    It is on us to correct this stupidity.

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  6. Say NO! Kids don't need to drive to school, there should be a qualifying need to drive such as rideshy with three or more or handicap parking driver's! While you're at it return the name to it's original name of J.E.B. Stuart Highschool!! Stay out of the park with your expired non inspected or insured junk cars!

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    Replies
    1. I agree that kids do not need to park. A parking permit/pass should be pricey to deter all kids having one OR the requirement for a pass would be three students to a car. Creat a parking garage ont he current site (knowing that there will be NO parking while their is construction.

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  7. Please sign the Petition to protect Justice Park at https://www.change.org/p/justice-for-justice-park. Thank you.

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