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Church Breaks Ground for Catholic School

July 25, 2002

In the last two years, the 2,500 families at St. Mark Catholic Church have raised $4 million toward a 52,000 square foot addition to the church. The addition, which will be called the St. Mark Christian Formation Center, will include a 400-student Catholic elementary and middle school, a gymnasium, a library and a computer center. By raising $4 million, half of the projected cost of the project, the church has secured a bridge loan to cover the rest of the costs. The entire project is projected to cost $8 million. The loan, from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, is payable over 10 years. But St. Mark officials hope that loan isn’t necessary.

"Hopefully we won’t have to use the diocese loan at all and we will be able to raise the money in 12 months," said Eric Peterson, general chairman of the church’s capital campaign.

If all goes well, said Peterson, the Christian Formation Center, along with a series of renovations to the current church facility, will open within 18 months from now. The church held a groundbreaking ceremony this past weekend, but construction is expected to begin a few weeks from now, after the final site plans are approved and permits are issued.

Along with local politicians and officials, hundreds of St. Mark parishioners showed up at the groundbreaking. Peterson said the school will serve a growing need among Catholic families in the area.

Bill Fairbanks moved to Vienna with his family 32 years ago and joined St. Mark then. At that time he put his children — one a high school freshman and the other a senior — on a waiting list to get into Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School, in Vienna, but neither child was ever admitted.

"And it’s even harder to get any good Catholic education now," Fairbanks said. "There aren’t that many good schools around. [The St. Mark school] may end up benefiting my grandkids, some of whom live in the area."

Currently, St. Mark children must attend St. Leo the Great School, in Fairfax, or Our Lady of Good Counsel to receive Catholic educations.

"Historically our parishioners have been able to enroll in the schools of other parishes," Peterson said. "But in the last five or six years, those schools have become saturated. There is no place for the parishioners of St. Mark to turn to."

There is already a waiting list for enrollment at the future school, which will accommodate kindergarten through eighth grade students. There may be preschool classes as well. School enrollment will be first come, first serve, but St. Mark parishioners will have priority. Annual tuition will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per student.

BUT STUDENTS WILL not be the only people to use the Christian Formation Center. The addition, which will double the footprint of the current facility, will provide meeting space for the church’s community outreach groups, religious education groups and governing committees.

"They’ve been crowded into the basement," Fairbanks said.

In the past 10 years, the St. Mark congregation has almost doubled, Peterson said. He would not be surprised to see the church grow to 3,000 families. Now, with 2,500 families, the church has more than 10,000 individual members.

"This addition will enable us to handle the growth we anticipate within the next 10 to 15 years," Peterson said.

But some surrounding neighbors would rather the church does not grow, and that the addition is not built. Last year, when Fairfax County first considered the church’s proposal, a group of citizens formed the Vale Road Coalition. The coalition’s main concern is that the new center will cause increased traffic along Vale Road, and cut-through traffic from the direction of Lawyers Road. The church is located at 9970 Vale Road, near the intersection with Trott Avenue.

Markus Brombacher, who lives on Trott Avenue, said that currently, when the church holds large events, it can take five or ten minutes to turn onto Vale Road.

"It’s already bad, and it will get worse," Brambacher said.

But Bob Blair, head of the Vale Road Coalition’s Liaison Committee, said since the county approved the project, there is nothing the coalition group can do to stop it.

"We’ve accepted the project to some degree," Blair said.

The group has been speaking with church officials, though, to work out the details of the site. The liaison group has made sure fencing around the site will not encroach on neighboring properties, and that the buffer area will have a sufficient amount of greenery.

"THE NEW PASTOR [the Rev. Patrick Holroyd] I credit for his willingness to talk with us," Blair said.

Holroyd recently took over as pastor, replacing the Rev. Stewart Culkin.

Blair said the future center will create traffic buildup in the mornings and afternoons, when students arrive and leave, but will generate traffic in the evenings, as well.

"This isn’t a school, per se, but it is a Christian Foundation Center," Blair said. "It will be in use seven days a week, evenings as well as school hours."

Fairbanks, who also lives near the church, agreed that "there is a traffic issue" along Vale Road. But, the St. Mark parishioner said, "[Traffic] is just part of life these days. There has to be progress."

He said the good that the addition will provide the St. Mark parishioners, along with the surrounding community, will outweigh any additional traffic problems.

"In my opinion, some people are going to be against anything and everything," Fairbanks said.