Move to Build Larger Schools

Move to Build Larger Schools

School Board seeks public opinion on proposal to build larger schools.

The School Board is moving toward increasing school size to accommodate Loudoun’s rapid growth in enrollment.

The board will seek public opinion on the possibility of increasing the size by about 10 percent to house additional students in future schools. The move would require expanding the number of classrooms and the size of some rooms, such as the cafeteria. The district, however, could use the same design it has used in recent years, School Board Chairman John Andrews said Monday.

Robert Dupree, chairman of the board’s Special Construction, Finance and Site Acquisition Committee that has been studying the issue and suggested the increase to the full board last week, explained why that is important. If the size were much higher than the committee’s recommendation, a different, more costly design would be necessary, he said.

Andrews agreed. “We have the least expensive per foot costs, because we use the same design over and over,” he said. “We are getting the best bang for the buck without going to mega schools.”

THE COMMITTEE PROPOSED building elementary schools with a capacity of 875 students instead of 796, middle schools with 1,350 students instead of 1,184, and high schools with 1,800 students instead of 1,600.

An increase is necessary, because Loudoun has the fastest growing enrollment in the state. Sam Adamo, director of Planning and Legislative Services, said enrollment rose from 19,967 students in 1995 to 44,011 this year. It is projected to increase to 49,059 next year, school officials said.

The school district opened one new elementary and two middle schools this year. It built 23 new schools in the past five years, and another 16 are slated for construction in the next six years.

Andrews said more than 25,000 new students are expected to enroll in county schools by the school year 2009-2010.

Dupree cited Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn as an example of overcrowding in which 1,800 students are attending a school built for 1,600.

“In the Ashburn/Dulles area, we are growing so rapidly, we are having trouble building them fast enough,” he said. “We have to plan three years ahead. Middle and high schools take longer. Elementary schools take two years.”

ANDREWS ORIGINALLY supported large schools of more than 2,000. “Over the past eight months of looking at the effect of having schools of 2,400 to 2,800, there is a concern about children getting lost within the system,” he said. “You are talking about a third more students in one building. If we can avoid doing it, I’d rather avoid it.”

Andrews cited limitations on the number of students who could participate in sports, band and other extra curricular activities as one negative consequence of big schools. Another is disciplinary problems. “Having a third more kids in the school, you are less able to identify and deal with those issues,” he said.

Overcrowding has been a key concern of Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run). “Good education and overcrowding shouldn’t be in the same sentence,” he said.

The School Board has yet to decide when it will seek public input on the proposal. It may set up a public hearing or take comment during its monthly meetings.