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Votes

Consultants List Determines Renovations

Being No. 1 Is Not a Good Thing

Sandburg Middle School is relatively new by some standards, having opened a decade ago. Even so, the Mount Vernon-pyramid school was ranked No. 2 on a list representing the schools most in need of renovations back in November 2000, when independent consultants Peck, Peck & Associates Inc. were hired to evaluate the state of the county's schools. The results of the Peck survey determine the priority for renovations each school is given in the Fairfax County Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). This year's proposed plan has Sandburg, with an enrollment of 1,191 students, slated to receive renovations sometime after FY ‘08.

The School Board is expected to adopt the proposed CIP Jan. 24.

<mh>Setting the Priority

<bt>The last time an evaluation of the schools was done was around 1985-86. Schools not included on that list were evaluated this time around, said Michael Eckhoff, assistant director of the Department of Facilities Services.

"The list the architects evaluated is based on not being on the 1985 list, based on opening date and how it got on the list," Eckhoff said. "They look around every school and evaluate a lot of different things, then fill out a survey evaluation form and rank both mechanical and architectural conditions."

The consultants' ranking, ranging from 0-10, determines the priority list for renovations. While no school loses its place on the priority list, the time those renovations actually begin can change.

Longfellow Middle School in McLean has the look and feel of a school that opened in 1961.

Each classroom is outfitted with two electrical sockets, one in the front and one in the back of the room. The rooms are not grouped in a way to make the team method of teaching effective, and there is no room for educational activities for a small group of children, such as speech therapy. The school also lacks a reliable heating system that makes some classrooms hot while others are cold, and the air conditioning breaks down often.

"The interior is very old-fashioned," said Longfellow principal Vince Lynch. "It was one of the first to receive renovations 18 or 19 years ago. Back then the renovations were not as significant as they are now. They added a gymnasium and a little theater along with four classrooms."

Longfellow, which has a capacity of 800 students and an expected 1,013 students for the 2002-03 school year, was ranked the middle school most in need of work.

With the release of the proposed CIP came the news that Longfellow's renovations were shifted one year, as were renovations at Woodson High School in Fairfax, which opened in 1961 and has a total enrollment of 1,710 students, ranked the high school most in need. The 50-year-old Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean — ranked No. 1 among elementary schools in need of work — and Edison High School in Franconia — with an enrollment of 1,602, ranked second among high schools — were also shifted a year by the new CIP.

"This is my third year, and each of the three years at least one pipe burst. In one case, the pipe burst in two different computer labs, destroying the computers beyond repair," said Woodson principal Robert Elliott. "If we knew which pipe could break, we could do preventive maintenance."

Besides bursting pipes, Elliott, his staff and students have to contend with science rooms not designed for labs, computers and instruction; a lack of shortage space because its been commandeered for technology wiring; and trailers outside that are storing equipment.

At times, the elevators do not work, forcing staff to carry students in wheelchairs up and down the stairs. Even closing up at night requires a staff member to walk around and check all the doors, because some of the latches do not catch properly.

<mh>Making Do

<bt>"Our policy is to try and renew a school every 25 years — give or take," Eckhoff said. "We're looking at trying to do at least two middle and high schools per bond issue. We probably need to do 10 elementary schools per bond to get through the list."

The 2000 evaluation list has 38 elementary schools, seven middle schools and four high schools.

Eckhoff said regardless of where a school falls on the list, the buildings are still good learning environments. Both Woodson and Longfellow have found ways to continue providing a quality education, despite the lack of modern equipment and space changes.

"Our teachers spend so much time trying to counterbalance the conditions of the building," Elliott said. "Our teachers provide the quality education our kids need. If that means they have to reconfigure the furniture in a classroom several times a day to make it work, then they do what they have to. I do think some things suffer because there isn't enough space. Some teachers, for example, have to forgo labs or do them in the hallways because there isn't space."

Nadja Golding, Longfellow PTA president, said it's the teachers and staff that keep the middle school functioning.

"We have wonderful teachers that keep working the best they can," she said, "even though we're always having to fix something."