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Freedom High School Follows Architectural Design

'Cookie-cutter' approach cuts architectural costs.

When it comes to Loudoun's new schools, the names are different but the design plans are nearly the same.

The public schools adopted prototype designs for elementary and middle schools in the mid-1990s and for high schools in 2000.

"We adjust the school to fit the landscape, but it is basically the same school," said Wayde Byard, schools press officer.

The elementary-school prototype follows the design of Sanders Corner Elementary School, which opened in Ashburn in 1995 with a capacity for 800 students. Farmwell Station Middle School, also in Ashburn and built in the same year, serves as the prototype for middle schools and has a capacity for 1,184 students.

As for the high schools, the prototype uses the design of Stone Bridge High School, which opened in Ashburn in 2000 with a 1,600-student capacity. Schools following this prototype include Heritage High School, which opened in Leesburg in 2002; Dominion High School, which will open in Sterling in fall 2003; and Briar Woods in Brambleton and Freedom High School in South Riding, which are scheduled to open in 2005.

THE SCHOOL BOARD awarded a $33.475 million contract to Maryland company Hess Construction Company to build Freedom High School, agreeing to work with the same company that constructed Heritage High School in 2000. The bid was within $125,000 of the second lowest bidder and $425,000 less than the highest bidder of the five firms vying to work on the project.

"The bids get tighter because the contractors get more experience with these buildings," said Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge) at the July 8 School Board meeting.

"This is close. It is showing great attention to detail," said School Board chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles), pointing out that contractors can research change orders on public record and over time, have become familiar with the design and setbacks of the district's prototypes. "To see results like this in this market is great."

The prototypes save the public schools hundreds of thousands of dollars in architectural fees for each school that is built. The prototypes may be adjusted for overall improvements or can be altered from school to school, since principals are allowed to make minor modifications to the design, such as adding a window in an office or enlarging a conference room.

"It's a big savings to the taxpayers if we go with a prototype that works," Byard said.

OTHER BENEFITS of using the prototypes include:

* Construction can start immediately after land is purchased and the bid is authorized.

* Contractors bidding for the project may have already worked with the design and may be familiar with it.

* Students switching to a new school may already be familiar with the design if they leave a high school built since 2000 and a middle or elementary school since 1995.

"We know how to build them [the schools] quickly and equip them properly," Byard said. "People say they are cookie cutters, but what they are is efficient, and they are attractive and functional. They are very good-looking buildings that are easy to maintain."

By the time school starts in the fall, the school district will have 61 schools in operation, including five new schools: Dominion High School in Sterling, Belmont Ridge Middle School in Lansdowne, Countryside Elementary School in Sterling, Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School in Leesburg and Mountain View Elementary School north of Purcellville.