Fairfax County Public Schools is considering selling off its largest piece of unused land, in order to generate extra funds to finance a number of upcoming capital construction projects.
The sale of the 35.5-acre "Pohick site," which is located south of the intersection of Huntsman Boulevard and the Fairfax County Parkway in the Springfield District, would generate nearly $12 million for the school’s construction fund, allowing the school system to move a number of capital projects ahead of schedule.
"It's an opportunity to use a piece of property we're not likely to build on," said Gary Chevalier, director of the Office of Facility Planning Services for the Fairfax County Public Schools.
A public hearing to solicit citizen input on the proposal is set for Thursday, Sept. 23, at 8 p.m., at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.
According to School Board member Catherine Belter (Springfield), the Board became aware of the possibility of selling the land during the process of revisiting several similar pieces of land throughout the county.
"It was one of the first ones the staff looked at as a way of getting the money we need to continue to move forward with renovations and new schools," Belter said.
FCPS chief operating officer Tom Brady said the school system has 14 other vacant sites, but the Pohick site is the largest. For the last 18 months, FCPS has been examining all of its available, vacant land as part of its new "Classrooms for Kids" initiative. The goal has been to determine which land the school district should sell and which it should keep for what purposes.
The school district currently is limited to $130 million in capital spending per year, said Chevalier, but the additional cash would provide funds for 12 renovation projects, in addition to a pair of new schools, all to begin ahead of schedule.
"It is an innovative approach to enhancing our capital program," said Brady.
UNDER THE terms of the deed of the Pohick land, which was proffered to the school district in 1967, the site must be used for a secondary school. Following the district's decision to build a new high school and middle school for the south county at the Laurel Hill site in Lorton — a much larger piece of land —the Pohick site became expendable.
"This property was not likely to be used. This is an opportunity for us to realize some cash from it that we could use to advance some projects in our capital improvement program," said Chevalier.
Two new elementary schools — one in West Fairfax and one in the Hunter Mill District — would both have their construction timetables moved up by two to three years. Twelve other renovation projects, including the completion of Woodson High School in Fairfax, would be accelerated to completion from six to 10 months ahead of time, according to Chevalier.
The Woodson renovation is particularly needed, according to Del. J. Chapman Petersen (D-37th).
"Anything we can do to accelerate the renovation of aging schools, particularly Woodson High School, is overdue and much appreciated," said Petersen.
Other schools scheduled for renovations include Graham Road, Great Falls, Mount Eagle, Vienna, Beech Tree, Franconia, Lake Anne, Oakton, Stenwood and Westlawn elementary schools.
The district was deeded the Pohick site by the 437 Land Company in 1989 and had planned to build a new high school for the south county. Since that time, the county's space needs had outgrown that site.
"We've known for a long time we were going to need a new high school in the south county area … but 35 acres would not be an ideal site," said Chevalier.
An unidentified party approached the School Board six weeks ago, according to Brady, and was interested in making an offer to use the land for residential development. Belter said the School Board has been in talks with Van Metre Homes of Burke, and she assumes the land would be used for housing, as it is zoned for residential purposes.
Following the public hearing, said Brady, the School Board would choose whether it still needed the land. If the district then declared the land surplus, it would waive the right to the reversion and strike a sales and purchase agreement with the 437 Land Co., pending approval from the Board of Supervisors.
The school district is able to sell the land due to a reverter clause in the deed to the land. According to the clause, if the district chooses not to use the land for a secondary school, it can sell the land back to the party named in the deed, the 437 Land Co.
THE PROSPECT of more homes makes the site's neighbors a little uneasy.
"We would much prefer the land to stay the way it is," said Jim Johnson, president of the South Run Common Community Association, an organization of 165 houses to the east and south of the Pohick site. "It's a nice buffer, and the trees are great."
Johnson said that he has received comments from a number of his residents, with many expressing interest in possibly using the land as an addition to South Run Park, which borders the site to the west.
"If it goes to a developer, it's a little less desirable," said Johnson.
Belter said the School Board has plans to send letters to the residents of the surrounding communities about the Board's proposal.
"It's not like we're going to pull anything over on them. I hope it won't be too overwhelming to them," she said.
The School Board will examine the remainder of its vacant sites on a case-by-case basis.
"There are sites that we are going to hold onto because of anticipated growth, and there are others where we don't really see that growth, and it might be better to realize some cash to build some schools," said Chevalier.
Belter said that while land in the Springfield District will be sold to realize cash for other parts of the county, the School Board recognizes the concerns that the land being sold might be needed in the future.
"No money is being taken away from anybody. When we sell something, we're selling it off to make sure we can get the facilities we need for our students," she said.