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2003: A Busy Year in Springfield

Although David Letterman brought the Top 10 list into the living room, Springfield news items exceeded the Top 10 list in 2003. Not surprisingly, it all starts at the nearly $800 million Interstate Interchange project.

Springfield Interchange

As progress continued on Phases IV and V through 2003, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) celebrated the project's halfway point on Tuesday, April 29.

"We're at a major milestone," said VDOT district administrator Tom Farley on the anniversary. "We're at the halfway point. The key to success is how to minimize the impact on traffic."

In August, crowds got out the lawn chairs and refreshments for Springfield's "big lift," which involved super-sized cranes lifting super-sized steel beams as part of Phase V of the Interstate Interchange project. These beams were part of an overpass that will take cars from I-95/I-495, over the "Mixing Bowl" section of the Interchange to I-95 south. The first weekend in late August, thunderstorms rolled through the area, and construction had to be halted. However, the operation went on without a hitch the weekend after Labor Day. Each beam weighed in excess of 50 tons.

War in Iraq

As the country started preparing for a war in Iraq, the military mission hit the people in Springfield as well. A number of residents in Springfield and Burke are either in the military or work at the Pentagon, and they closely eyed the invasion, which began in the spring of 2003. On Saturday, Jan. 18, many residents from the area took part in an anti-war demonstration on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Jack McHale and Tim McKinney began fasting to protest the war on Jan. 4 and continued to Super Bowl Sunday on Jan. 26. Burke grandmother Suzanne Doherty started a local "Grandmothers for Peace" chapter and attended the march as well. Debbie Polychrones, VDOT employee, saw her son Jason shipped off that month with the U.S. Marines. Polychrones lives in Annandale but works at the Interchange Information Office in Springfield Mall.

District Office Renovation

After months of being in temporary quarters on nearby Bauer Drive, Supervisor McConnell's office, Springfield District police officers and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Company 27 were all moved back under one roof. June 18 marked the first day in the newly renovated building on Rolling Road. The $10,840,000 renovation updated and reconfigured the offices, adding 18,000 square feet for a total of 41,500 square feet in the building. The renovation was funded with a 1998 bond.

Springfield Days

After the 20 Miss Springfield contestants did the song-and-dance, the evening gown and the question-and-answer portion routines, the judges made their decision on the title of Miss Springfield 2003, which was awarded to Melinda Scott. Scott received $1,000 in scholarship money and the title; first runner-up, Jennifer Sledd, received $300 scholarship money; second runner-up, Sarah Buschong, who was also Miss Congeniality, received $200 and a trophy.

Melinda, 17, had plans for her platform as Miss Springfield over the next year. She was a senior at Lee High School and attended George Mason University in the fall. Her childhood included living with a foster family, so she wants to make a difference. Saturday, May 31 Scott waved at the crowd in the parade in central Springfield, which was the site of the Springfield Days carnival, art show and performances.

On the final day of the Springfield Days celebration, the Cardboard Boat Race was a hit at Lake Accotink. Friends and families lined the shore by the docks to see what the boats could do. Many had witnessed weeks of boat creation leading up to the big day.

Revitalization

Springfield revitalization took steps to becoming reality in 2003 with the opening of a Trader Joe's food store in Springfield Plaza, Marriott Town Suites along Brandon Avenue, and streetscape improvements along Springfield Tower Center. Skeeter Schied, president of the Central Area Springfield Revitalization Committee (CSPARC), was optimistic about the changes as a map was unveiled in September for Phase I of the streetscape plan.

"The idea is to get pedestrian-friendly," Schied said.

The plan included brick crosswalks, trees, bushes and granite cobble planting pits on Bland Street, Amherst Avenue and Backlick Road in central Springfield. Work is scheduled to start in 2004.

The opening of Northern Virginia Community College's Medical Education Campus off Loisdale Road was an addition to the "bioinformatics incubator," which officials hope will fuel high-tech development on the eastern side of I-95. Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) called it an "economic generator for the entire county."

Slug Lines

For years, the commuters that "slugged," a term for hitching a ride, used the lot in the Springfield Plaza. They would park there and run across Old Keene Mill Road to the old Circuit City and Long John Silver’s lot, where commuters would pull in and pick them up. Former Del. Tom Bolvin (R-43rd) thought a lot on the eastern side of I-95 would be more efficient, so a new slug lot was opened by Springfield Mall in early September.

Metro opened another parking garage at the Springfield-Franconia Metro station to cater to the increasingly popular commuting option.

Baseball In Springfield

At the intersection of Richfield and Rolling roads, no one mentioned the "Sultan of Swat," the "Big Green Monster" or other romantic icons of America's pastime when the Citizens against a Major League Baseball stadium in Springfield gathered on Monday, April 21.

Del. David B. Albo (R-42nd) couldn't come up with a snappy nomenclature for the group, which consisted of Supervisor Kauffman; Springfield supervisor candidate Stan Reid; West Springfield Civic Association president Addison Smith; Lon Caldwell, past president of the West Springfield Civic Association; and others behind the movement. Albo did note their common link, though.

"We can have a unified voice against a stadium at the EPG [Engineer Proving Grounds]," he said.

Baseball in general wasn't the target of their anti-stadium talk, but financing the stadium with public funds in a time when many programs around the state were cut to save money didn't seem feasible. It would cost $378.6 million to build, with two-thirds of that from the taxpayers. Major League Baseball was supposed to make a decision during the All-Star break in July on where to put the Montreal Expos if they were to leave Montreal, but no decision was made.

Hooes Road Park Ball Fields

After years of negotiation, an alternate plan was selected for the baseball and soccer fields at Hooes Road Park. Brainstorming between Supervisor Kauffman's office, the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Springfield Youth Association and the Springfield Babe Ruth League produced a plan that includes another rectangular field added for a total of three, and the relocation of the baseball backstop, creating a 90-foot baseball diamond for the first phase of the park improvements.

After examining all the options, the plan will now move on to the next stage of contract bid, according to Christine Tollefson, former administrative assistant in Kauffman's office.

"This project's been around a while," said Fairfax County Park spokesperson Judy Pederson. "We're pleased it's moving forward."

For this phase of the project, six options were on the table ranging from $624,000 to $917,000. With the most expensive option, a parking lot upgrade was required, said Tollefson. The parking lot expense put that out of reach for this phase, but it will still have to be enlarged to accommodate all the traffic related to the three soccer fields.

Parkway Completion

The two-mile segment of the Fairfax County Parkway going around the EPG will be advertised in 2006 but not be built until 2007, county planners admitted in October. Plans were examined by VDOT project manager Tom Folse in a meeting with Supervisor McConnell, who’s been backing the completion for years.

"That's been going a long time," McConnell said at the meeting.

The plans Folse discussed said the remaining segment of the parkway, going from the Fairfax County Parkway's intersection with Rolling Road through the EPG to the existing parkway, will be three lanes and incorporate six bridges. The project will cost between $90 million and $95 million. Funds are already set aside for the project.

On March 20, VDOT awarded a $966,235 contract for "safety improvements at the intersection of Rolling and Fullerton roads," according to information released by VDOT. Fullerton Road dead-ends with a padlocked fence at that location. The road was finally opened in November, giving commuters another thoroughfare to I-95.

Elections

The November elections meant changes for the residents of the 43rd District, as Democratic challenger Mark Sickles defeated Republican incumbent Tom Bolvin. The School Board has some new faces in the Springfield area, as well. Brad Center defeated Terry Decales in a race, after Chris Braunlich left to run for the Virginia Senate against Toddy Puller.

The official count was Sickles with 4,686 votes to Bolvin's 4,075. Also in the Springfield area, Del. Jim Dillard (R-41st) won a landslide victory over independents Michael Golden and John Wolfe.

New Park

On March 17, the county attorney submitted the final copy of the deed for the county to take over the land occupied by gravel pits behind Hayfield Secondary School, deemed Kingstowne Park.

"There wasn't a dispute," said Christine Tollefson, former administrative assistant in Supervisor Kauffman's office. "It took a lot of time to cross the t's and dot the i's."

Originally the land was slated for athletic fields, but changes in the Federal Wetlands Act wouldn't allow development to fill in the lakes and swamps for soccer fields. The fields were relocated to an area in Clermont off Franconia Road.

The park is classified as a "passive" park, which means that it has no ball fields, no fishing and only nature trails for walking. The lake on the property used to be an old gravel pit and is now popular with the bird population.

"We have a blue heron here," said Roberta Cain, who works in the Kingstowne community office. "He eats on my street. We've seen a red tail hawk."

Greenspring Village Voting Precinct

Voting in November 2002 elections was hectic for Greenspring Village residents when rain and the cold turned the polls at Garfield Elementary into a mob scene. In 2003, Greenspring Village became its own voting precinct, Precinct 426, eliminating the need to shuttle residents to Garfield and giving them a sense of voting unity.

The vote at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, Monday, March 24, was unanimous in favor of creating a new precinct. Then at last November's election, the popularity of the new precinct was more then officials predicted, creating lines at the polls until the Election Board brought in another voting machine in the afternoon.

School Construction

With its recent renovation completed, Orange Hunt Elementary has abandoned utopian concept in favor of something old-fashioned — classrooms with doors.

"I like it with closed classrooms," said Jackie Bruhn, 12, a sixth-grader who experienced both open and closed classrooms at Orange Hunt.

"You don't get distracted," Jackie said. "The other ones, it echoed and carried."

Sue Fourney's 10-year-old daughter Amy is an Orange Hunt student as well. At Back-to-School Night last year, it was apparent that noise was a factor with the open classrooms.

"Back-to-School Night, the teacher was explaining to us and we'd be straining to hear her," Fourney said.

Fairfax County Public Schools engineer Mike Eckhoff was involved in the 20-25 schools that have been renovated. The utopian concept was a product of the free-thinking, communal era in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"It basically came from the West Coast," Eckhoff said. "A lot of them have been closed."

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) superintendent Daniel Domenech attended the renovation completion ceremony at Orange Hunt on Friday, March 14. He noted the ill-fated concept.

In addition to school renovation, the county opened a new school in the Springfield area. The Island Creek Elementary School, in Kingstowne, opened in September, relieving the overcrowding at Lane Elementary School. Lane is one and a half miles down Beulah Street from Island Creek. The new principal Susan Owner moved over from North Springfield Elementary School to Island Creek.

Lee High School began the third phase of its renovation over the summer and opened in 2003. The final step at Lee is the cafeteria, which will be started in the summer of 2004.

Springfield Mall Abductions

Abductions occurred on Jan. 24 and Feb. 22 in the Springfield Mall parking lot. A gun was pulled out and the victim was instructed to drive to an ATM machine and forced to withdraw money.

Two recent abductions from Springfield Mall have raised concerns about security at the shopping center, located near the Springfield Interchange. In response to the incidents, the former bus stop was taken out and moved away from the mall building to prevent loitering.

One worker claimed to have seen the particular abduction suspect strolling the parking lot on Tuesday, Feb. 25 — only a few days after the second abduction.

Snowstorms

Record snowfall in the area in 2003 put a strain on VDOT's plowing facilities and budgets. The Newington Station on Cinder Bed Road, has Areas 6 and 7 on its plowing map, which goes into Springfield as well as the Mount Vernon area. Area 6 has 898 lane miles, technically in the Lorton area including part of Springfield, and Area 7 has 725 lane miles in the Mount Vernon area. Plow drivers explained the curb-to-curb service to some residents morning of Feb. 7, after six inches of snow fell the night before.

In addition to transportation difficulties with the snow, schools exceeded their allotted snow days and had to add additional days at the end of the year. In December, more snow delayed school openings but did not require the use of a snow day.