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New High School Inches Forward

For one Springfield parent whose seventh grader leaves the house at 6:10 a.m. for school at Hayfield, victory for a new high school is measured in the absence of a line item on the county's Comprehensive Plan. That item is under "new construction," and contains the $2.3 million for planning and design of the new school on land that was once part of the Lorton prison property.

"I want to see that whole line item gone," said Liz Bradsher, a parent and active force behind the public-private partnership implemented for the coming school. "It just closes another chapter in this whole issue."

Now approval of the $2.3 million is going before the school board on at a meeting Dec. 19, a meeting rescheduled from Thursday, Dec. 5 because of snow. That money is coming from 1999 and 2001 school bonds, according to Bradsher.

"The school system has that money from a previous bond," she said.

Bradsher spent the last two years working on this school for that area of the county and enlisted the help of area politicians, school advocates, developers and a former Dallas Cowboy. The Oyster School in Washington, D.C., was built with a public-private partnership too, with the help of a company run by former football great Roger Staubach. His company, a financial consulting organization, was instrumental in getting Oyster School up and running and school advocates used that for a model.

"That was the real kick," Bradsher said of Staubach's affiliation.

There was no opposition to this method of innovative financing. Bradsher named Supervisors Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) and Gerry Hyland (D- Mount Vernon), Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd), as well as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Katherine Hanley as forces behind the effort. Bradsher credited the builders, Pulte, KSI and Clarke as well.

"I haven't had any community opposition or county opposition to this, I think we've gotten tremendous cooperation from the Board of Supervisors. We've had to prove this is a non-partisan issue," Bradsher said.

Springfield District school board member Cathy Belter noted the work by the Board of Supervisors too.

"The Board of Supervisors are really involved in this as well. The timing is good, this will relieve Hayfield," she said.

McConnell knew there was much progress toward the new school. Having a model, Oyster School, was a plus.

"I'd like to see the bulldozers move in tomorrow. If there's a prototype out there, that's wonderful," she said.

Although the school is technically in the Mount Vernon District, most of the students will come from the Springfield-Fairfax Station area. The land is part of the property transferred to the county when Lorton Prison closed. There is also need for a middle school in that area and there is land set aside for that too, but it is not in the immediate plans. Instead, the county will open the high school initially as a "secondary" school, which caters to 7-12 grades and switch completely to a high school at a later date, according to Bradsher.

"It still remains important that the middle school gets built. They're building it initially to be a secondary school and will convert it to a high school after the middle school is built," she said.

Although the secondary school was one of the models Fairfax County school system used to build, they have shied away from housing 7 through 12 grades all in one building so they no longer build the secondary model. Hayfield, Robinson and Lake Braddock are all secondary schools.

Although nothing is concrete about the physical appearance of the building, the actual building will resemble Westfield High School in western Fairfax County. Bradsher is on the list of speakers for the coming school board meeting and feels that her daughter, who will be a sophomore when the school opens in 2005, will not have to be bused to Hayfield throughout her high school career.

"It has fueled my desire to make sure it opens in 2005," she said. "We feel confident it will remain that date."

Belter believes that the public-private partnership may be feasible for other projects.

"I believe it is something that the school system will look at in the future," she said.