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Bond Referendum Is Vital to Local Schools

When voters go to the polls Nov. 4, besides choosing political leaders, they'll also be voting on a school-bond referendum containing items of vital importance to the local schools.

Included in the $290.6 million total referendum is $1.3 million in planning money for a new, western Fairfax elementary school, $2.6 million for a 14-room modular addition at Chantilly High and $8.7 million for a 24-room, brick-and-mortar addition to Westfield High.

Amazing as it may seem, the new elementary school will be needed mainly to relieve Centreville's newest school — Colin Powell Elementary — which just opened, last month. Greenbriar East and West elementaries, or Willow Springs Elementary, could also possibly benefit from this school, although Powell is currently the main target.

"Right now, that's where the growth is," said Gary Chevalier, director of Fairfax County Public Schools' Facilities Planning Services. "Some 1,500 homes are right around it, and the Dix-Cen-Gato project — 1,200 homes, primarily townhouses and multifamily — are being built nearby."

The new school would be on Deming Drive, near the county Government Center and would have 36 classrooms. The site was dedicated to the county for a school, about 18 months ago, as part of land rezoning in the Fairfax Center area of the Springfield District.

"It was in last year's CIP [Capital Improvement Program] and would open in 2007," said Chevalier. "Its cost is estimated at $19 million for construction, equipment and furnishings."

The bond money would enable the school system to begin engineering and initial design and architectural work on the new school. If approved, it could possibly be followed with a request for the construction dollars in the 2005 bond referendum. Said Chevalier: "Since it's based on homes that are coming, we'll monitor it to see how fast the homes are being built."

Chantilly had 2,628 students enrolled in September, and its addition is earmarked for the 2005 school year. "It won't actually abut the school, so it'll have a covered walkway between it and the building," said Chevalier. "It's like bringing in another hallway, with classrooms on either side, and bathroom facilities — except it's prefab."

Trailers are used for all grade levels and subjects. "I sure hope we do get them," said Chantilly Principal Tammy Turner. "They'll replace some of the older trailers; some are almost 20 years old, aren't in the best of shape and require a lot of maintenance."

She said it would be much better to have students in a nicer facility, and "they won't have to come all the way into the building to use the restrooms." Turner said new trailers "will really help us out because we will never be a small school."

Westfield was actually designed for an addition and, said Chevalier, "It appears the school's long-term needs will justify building [it] as permanent construction." It's planned for completion during the 2005-06 school year.

Building capacity was originally 2,500 students and renovations within Westfield's first two years brought it to about 2,625. But with continual growth, it's still not enough. Said Principal Dale Rumberger: "By next fall, we should [have] about 3,030 students."

The two-story addition would be efficient, with locker bays and bathrooms, and the cafeteria would get another exit. (The addition would connect to the existing building in the cafeteria area, with a hallway).

Rumberger will meet with other administrators and department chairs to determine exactly how the addition would be utilized. But if he had his 'druthers, he'd have it in construction by spring 2004 and open by fall 2005 because "that would best meet the needs of the students and teachers."