Colin Powell Elementary School opened two years ago, and two years from now, western Fairfax may get another new school. "There absolutely is a need," said Phyllis Villani, president of the Colin Powell PTA. "It's something that western Fairfax really needs.
The new school is currently being called West Fairfax (an official name will be chosen later) and will be located just north of Route 29 and south of the Fairfax County Government Center on Dixie Hill Lane. "There is a lot of development coming next to it," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield).
McConnell worked with the developer, Van Metre, to secure the 12-acre parcel for the new school, she said. "I'm just so thrilled over that one," she said.
An application was filed with the Fairfax County Planning Commission for construction of the school. It is currently planned to be a 36-classroom building with a capacity of 900-950, said Gary Chevalier, director of facilities planning for Fairfax County Public Schools.
"The price in the CIP [Capital Improvements Program] is $19 million," Chevalier said. That price includes the building and most of the internal structures, but not books, he said.
The school had been planned to open in September 2009. However, due to a windfall of cash from the sale of a piece of land on Pohick Road in Springfield, the date may be moved up. "We could potentially move the opening day up to 2006," Chevalier said.
The school system will get approximately $12 million from the sale of the Pohick site, said School Board member Catherine Belter (Springfield). "The idea is to escalate some of the schools in the CIP," Belter said.
Moving the school up in the budget, Chevalier said, will create cost savings associated with the construction of the new school. "You actually save three years of inflation," he said.
While the school system will still have to contribute several million dollars toward the construction — Chevalier gave a very rough estimate of $3.5 million-$4 million — the cash infusion will still serve to free up other funds that can be used to move up remodeling projects at some other schools.
THE NEW SCHOOL is set to be constructed within the boundary area of Colin Powell, opening up the possibility that a child who two years ago went to one school and was shifted into Powell will, two years from now, be in yet another school.
While the situation isn't perfect, it doesn't especially concern Villani, who went through the boundary study two years ago when Powell opened. "Doing it this quickly, it's going to be an adjustment," she said. "As long as the kids stay in Fairfax County Schools, it won't be a problem."
When the boundary studies are complete, Villani would like to see a new look at the way the schools feed into each other. She'd like to see a system similar to the one used in Montgomery County, Md., where she grew up. There, several elementary schools feed into a middle school, and two or three middle schools into a high school, instead of students from one elementary school being sent to different middle schools.
This, she said, stops students from being split from their friends and therefore reduces the stress of moving into a new school. "I would love to see the new elementary schools being built as single feeders," Villani said. "It's not fair to see a lot of our students commute even farther than our parents."
If everything moves forward as scheduled, the boundary study is set to begin next fall, Chevalier said. "In the spring, we'll meet with the principal and PTA officers," he said.
Currently, the school system is working on a boundary study for the new South County High School, Belter said. "I think once this one is over, we'll start on the new study," she said.
"In the fall, right after school starts, we'll notify parents in all the areas that can be affected," said Chevalier. The school system will then conduct a series of community meetings at this time next year with a final vote by the School Board in the winter of 2006.
Another decision that will need to be made is which special programs, such as special education or gifted and talented, will be placed in the new school.
With the number of programs at Colin Powell, Belter said, the expectation may be to have some of them at West Fairfax. "We'd have to look closely at opening some there," she said. Belter stressed that new programs would not mean the end of anything at Powell, but simply new offerings.