0
Votes

School Enrollment Still Growing

In Western Fairfax, Overcrowding is a Fact of Life

The continually rising growth in local school enrollment shows no signs of letting up.

And although Bull Run Elementary and Westfield High both opened in the Sully District in the past three years — and a new middle school will open in September, followed by yet another elementary in 2003 — additions will still be needed at some schools to accommodate all their students.

And with developers here building homes as fast as they can — and families with children buying them — it seems as if, no sooner is a new school open, then it's bursting at the seams. The northeast Centreville elementary school will come on line in September 2003, and the original intention behind it was to relieve Greenbriar East and West elementaries, plus Poplar Tree.

However, it's being constructed in the Centreville Farms community — where Pulte Home Corp. and Winchester Homes are revamping that entire area from the ground up. They're building 297 single-family homes, 792 townhouses and 402 apartments.

According to Fairfax County Public Schools' Facilities Planning Services, upon completion (several years from now, although it's well underway), it's expected to yield 346 elementary-school students, 72 middle-schoolers and 157 high-school students.

IT'S NO WONDER THEN, says Facilities Planning Services Director Gary Chevalier that, when the new elementary school does open there, "It will open close to full, I'm sure." And a great portion of its students will come right from that Centreville Farms community.

As part of the school system's CIP (Capital Improvement Program) and the boundary studies for the new southwest county middle school, Facilities Planning Services looked at each school's building capacity — and its attendance area's future growth — and forecast projected enrollments for September 2002 and September 2006. These numbers (see chart) will be updated in mid-April, but they aren't expected to change dramatically.

Overcrowding is already a fact of life at both Greenbriar East and West elementaries — and both need renovations to add more space — but the school system already planned for and funded these renovations in the November 2001 bond referendum.

With a 713-student building capacity, Greenbriar East is expected to have 924 students in September and 1,029 students in September 2006. To handle them all, the school will begin a $10.3 million renovation in Fiscal Year 2004. When work is completed in Fiscal Year 2006, Greenbriar East will have, among other things, more space for its media center and computer lab.

Greenbriar West has a building capacity of 671 students. Attendance forecasts (not taking into account the new elementary that will open this fall) are for 987 students by September and 1,312 by September 2006. An eight-classroom addition — part of a $13.9 million renovation — is slated for the start of construction in Fiscal Year 2005, finishing in Fiscal Year 2007.

DEER PARK AND LONDON TOWNE elementaries are also overcrowded, but they're planned, instead, to receive 10-room, modular additions. Instead of trailers, they're prefab classrooms added onto the schools, without the time and expense it would take to build them from scratch.

Deer Park has a building capacity of 705 students — and a current enrollment of 865. By September, it's anticipated to have 862 students. In 2002, that number is expected to go down slightly to 817.

London Towne has a 692-student capacity — and 887 student bodies currently attending. September's enrollment is forecast at 868 children, with 863 expected in September 2006. Deer Park is earmarked to receive its modular units this September, but London Towne isn't slated for its addition until September 2003.

Deer Park principal Lynne Pope says the modular classrooms will replace eight "outdoor suites" — as she euphemistically calls the trailers which presently house the school's third-graders.

"They'll bring running water, bathroom facilities, a covered walkway from the main building and ramps for those in wheelchairs," she said. "They'll also come with individual room-temperature controls."

THE NEW CLASSROOMS WILL ALSO BE CONNECTED to the Internet, as well as to the school's computer network, public-address system and in-house TV. "Being in those classrooms will be identical to being in the building," said Pope. "It really is going to be great — we're stepping up."

Meanwhile, London Towne has 13 trailers now, and principal Walt Mallory says that his figures show an enrollment of 890 students, this coming fall — slightly above the school system's forecast. "We were up to 915 for awhile, before Christmas, and we may go up again," he said.

The reason, explained Mallory, is that London Towne's attendance area includes lots of multi-family dwellings — each yielding a large number of school-age children. And often, large extended families live in them, as well as in the area's single-family homes.

"You'll find grandma living there, plus an aunt, sister Susie and her kids, Uncle Joe and his kids — and their grandkids — all in the same house," he said. "These old townhouses are big and roomy, and the rents are low, so people move into them." As a result, said Mallory, London Towne's enrollment continues to soar.

To deal with all the extra bodies in a school built for less than 700, the second-graders are spending this year outside the building in six trailers. And the sixth grade is in a four-unit, or quad, trailer. GT students are also in trailers, as are the special-education classes and a portion of the music students.

As for lunch, it runs continuously from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., with a new class streaming into the cafeteria every five minutes. However, says Mallory, "It's a good-sized cafeteria — it's just a whole lot of kids coming in."

He said the renovation of a couple years ago provided the school with enough bathrooms — they're just in "constant use and have to be cleaned twice a day." And when it comes to school assemblies, London Towne has to hold two, instead of one, because "there are just too many kids for the gym, all at once."

Mallory has also had to be creative in order to find room for all the classes within the building. "We start running out of small spaces and bumping people into corner offices," he said. "And half-size classrooms for ESL or special ed move into smaller spaces. One of our teachers' lounges is now a special-ed resource class, but the teachers have been good about it."

With another whole school year of overcrowding to go, before London Towne gets any relief, Mallory says an additional grade will have to go outside into trailers, next year. Currently, the school has more fourth-graders than any other grade, followed by second-graders. Next year, the space crunch will be in fifth and third grades. But the growth isn't only in those grades.

"This school year, we had a last-minute influx of kindergartners, so we opened another section of kindergarten and hired another kindergarten teacher, three days before school started," said Mallory. "Grades three and four grew in September and October, so I got another teacher who teaches a half-day of third grade and a half-day of fourth."

It's no wonder, then, that he's really looking forward to receiving the 10-classroom modular unit — even if it won't come until September 2003. "I'd like to have my modules a year early for my teachers and students," he said. "But we made it this far, we'll get by again — we'll be fine."