Overcrowding has made trailer classrooms the norm at Lane Elementary School. At the same time, high school students from Fairfax Station continue to get on the bus before the sun comes up, carrying students across several high school boundaries to attend Hayfield Secondary School. An additional high school, loosely dubbed the South County High School, would provide some relief to the Hayfield situation and the Island Creek Elementary School on Beulah Street is the answer to the trailer situation, so what's more important?
The trailers won out as ground was broken recently on the 11.30 acres parcel of land in the Landsdowne area.
School board member Christian Braunlich looked at the county process.
"It's on the basis on existing student populations and expected populations. They weigh in the whole capital improvements plan," he said.
Braunlich noted the discrepancy with the county and school planning procedure.
"The difficulty is the communication between the county planners and school facility planners haven't always been the best. Until the plans are actually filed, it [developments] does not exist yet. There is a real issue anticipating the impact," he said.
Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) knows the process has discrepancies.
"Believe it or not, 20 years ago when Kingstowne development was being reviewed the school system felt no need for a school that today has 19 trailers. We, in no way, want to facilitate a repeat of the situation we found ourselves in at Lane Elementary so many years ago. Given the fundamental disconnect between the school systems calculations and what ultimately happens in the area, we want to ensure that, when looking at the Island Creek school, we don't see a repeat," he said.
Island Creek is due to open for the 2004-2005 school year, and is a bigger building than Lane, according to Jeff McKay, the chief of staff in Kauffman's office.
"It's their set prototype, it's a little bit bigger than Lane," he said.
Linda Waller, administrative assistant in Supervisor Dana Kauffman's (D-Lee) office, remembered when Lane was proposed and the way the county estimates the number of students.
"It was a fight to get Lane built, the school administration thought it wasn't needed. It was moved up on the agenda because of the overcrowding at Lane. There was a time in the county when they were closing schools," Waller said.
LIZ BRADSHEAR was aware of Island Creek and the CIP despite the needs in Fairfax Station. "They've had that [Island Creek] on the plan for years," she said. Bradshear is a member of the Hayfield Pyramid Group, which is in favor of the new high school. She is also a Fairfax Station parent of a student who will get bused across the county to attend Hayfield. She's been part of the effort for a new high school since the fall of 1998 and sees the same gap in planning.
"The county never should have taken this long to build a high school. Somehow the planning didn't coincide with the amount of building going on. That was the concern all along, they didn't see what was coming down the road, the county and the school system aren't working together," she said.
FCPS public affairs specialist Paul Regnier noted the number of renovations and other construction projects the school system is involved with.
"They look at all different kinds of factors. They're both [Island Creek and South County HS] on the list," he said.
Braunlich pointed out a couple of advantages the developers of the south county school have. With the public-private partnership they are looking at, the developers might be able to build it quicker without the bond process the county currently uses, and the fact that there is a lot of open property involved might speed things up as well. The developers have the potential to trade off for other projects to work in the Laurel Hill area, which is the site of the former prison at Lorton.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting, May 6, requests for proposal (RFP) for the high schools was momentarily held up by Supervisor Stu Mendelsohn's (R-Dranesville) concern for the historic buildings that were part of the prison. Fairfax County executive Anthony H. Griffin agreed that is a concern.
"That ultimately is the concern of the board so we will work with the bidder," he said.
According to Bradshear, the bid for the south county high school is out. "The bid is due back on Aug. 8. They hope to break ground in June 2003, and the public and school system would like to see the school opened by 2005," she said.
THE COMMUNITIES ALONG Beulah Street and Kingstowne are going to be redistricted when the Island Creek school enters the picture. School officials will start the process in October 2002 and expect to redraw the school districts in February or March 2003, according to Braunlich. Students may attend different schools the following September.
Jim Kalleta lives across the street from the Island Creek site, which he originally thought was going to be soccer fields. He has three children that graduated from Fairfax County schools and thinks a school there might be good for property values.
"Somebody told me it was going to be soccer fields. This county does a pretty good job with schools," Kalleta said.
A mother in Island Creek who chose not to give her name, sends her children to private schools because Lane Elementary was so crowded.
"It's [Lane] over capacity, that's one of the reasons they're going there. They miscalculated the amount of kids here. This is a great idea," she said of the new school.
Braunlich is convinced the 36-room school will make a significant impact on the overcrowding issue.
"It's going to make a big difference I think," he said.