Boundary Process Begins for New School

Boundary Process Begins for New School

A meeting on Oct. 12 will be the first of three dedicated to drawing attendance areas for the new high school at Laurel Hill.

The hot button question of which students will attend the much-anticipated new south county high school in Lorton will soon be answered.

With the help of three town hall meetings, parents will find out which students will fill the new school, located on the Laurel Hill property in Lorton.

Fairfax County Public Schools will conduct the first of these public meetings, to help determine secondary school attendance areas, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m., at Hayfield Secondary School in Springfield.

The meetings, which will culminate with a December presentation to the Fairfax County School Board, are designed to use community feedback as the chief determining factor in drawing attendance boundaries for the new south county high school.

"We don’t want this to be a process where the school system says, ‘This is the boundary.’ We want to take into consideration what the community thinks is important," said Gary Chevalier, director of the Office of Facilities Planning Services for FCPS.

Much of the 90-minute, Oct. 12 meeting will be spent in small groups, with the over 1,500 people expected to attend divided up in order to register their concerns and priorities in drawing the boundaries. The information gathered by the School Board will help in creating several possible plans, which will be presented at a second meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 3, back at Hayfield.

"I know how sensitive and long-term people’s feelings can be about this," said School Board member Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon). "It’s a big community issue, which is why I think it’s essential that we have a fair and open process."

THE THIRD and final meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, and the goal of that meeting is to fine-tune one attendance plan that will be presented to the School Board in December. Public hearings on the plan will take place in January.

"The staff will be offering up the first recommendation on this, but the point at this time is that you can look at the numbers, but unless you understand what the community is looking for, and have had those numbers vetted by the community, it’s kind of an opinion," said Storck.

The location of the new south county high school is off Silverbrook Road east of Hooes Road on the site of the former correctional facility. The school will be built for $62 million as part of a public/private partnership into which the county entered in 2003 with KSI Services and Clark Educational Associates. That partnership means that the school will be built ahead of schedule and paid for under the existing Capital Improvement Program plans. It also means the school will have a golf course and an assisted living center as near neighbors.

THE HAYFIELD Pyramid Solutions Group, which was formed in 1999 by parents from the Hayfield Secondary School pyramid, is seeing the fruition of its work to make the south county school a reality. Under the leadership of Liz Bradsher, a Silverbrook community resident, the group pushed for the public/private partnership and is ready for the next step.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel, of getting this school open and getting our kids in the front door," said Bradsher, mother of two. The group conducted an informational meeting on the thorny boundary issue at Newington Forest Elementary School in January. Bradsher said her neighbors are still skeptical that the boundaries for the south county school will be drawn to their satisfaction.

"There’s a lot of angst and doubt that the school system is going to do the right thing," she said.

Both the high school and the eventual middle and elementary schools are located in Laurel Hill and are well within the boundaries of the Mount Vernon magisterial district. The high school will likely draw students from the Hayfield, Lee, Edison, and possibly Lake Braddock high-school pyramids.

School board representative Brad Center (Lee) said he believes once the boundaries are drawn all involved schools, especially Hayfield, will benefit.

"The main intent, and this is not a secret to anyone, is to address the overcrowding at Hayfield. That's the issue that spurred much of this on," said Center. "That's a large part of the goal." Center added that with the recently completed renovations to Hayfield, those students who remain within that school's boundaries will also have much to be proud of.

"I almost look at it like we have two new schools. We just completed a huge renovation at Hayfield, and when you get rid of the trailers, it will look like a nice new school, and it won't be overcrowded," he said. "It's like a new beginning for Hayfield."

The south county school will initially open in September 2005 as a secondary school, with grades seven to 10, but those at Tuesday’s meeting will also offer their opinions on whether grade 11 should be added. The projected capacity of the school is 2,500, and Chevalier said the school system is examining ways to maintain steady enrollment at the new south county high school.

"We’ve got to be careful that we use the capacity of all our schools carefully," said Chevalier.