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Springfield Steps Up in 2004

More businesses and offices called Springfield home, and the Springfield Interchange project reached another milestone.

Springfield became more of a destination in 2004, as the Virginia Department of Transportation's Interchange Project reached another milestone, and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority added more incentives to businesses wishing to move to the area designated a "revitalization district."

Not all was rosy, though, as the threat of increased gang activity prompted a community task force. Public hearings were also held to determine which students would attend the new high school in Lorton.

School Board Sells Land

The Fairfax County School Board voted to approve the sale of 35.5 acres of school land at Huntsman Boulevard and the Fairfax County Parkway in the Springfield district in November. The transaction was part of the "Classrooms for Kids" initiative designed to raise money for the school system's capital improvement program. Several public hearings, both before the School Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors were held, but ultimately the School Board voted to approve the sale, due in large part to a reverter clause on the land deed, which specified that the land will revert to the developer if not used for a secondary school.

Major Interchange Hurdle Crossed

On May 19, a 120-foot-high bridge from I-495 West to I-95 South opened, as part of Phase V of the Virginia Department of Transportation's Interchange Project. The $31 million bridge, which was christened the "Robert J. 'Bob' Heittman Memorial Bridge," at a banquet in late December to honor the former Lee District Land Use and Transportation committee chief, carries about 25,000 vehicles per day and was a major milestone in the eight-year, $700 million VDOT project, designed to alleviate congestion in the area known as the "Mixing Bowl," where I-495, I-95, I-395 merge with local traffic on Route 644. Two days later, a second ramp lane opened for traffic traveling from the outer loop to I-95 south.

Gang Activity Sparks Dialogue

In response to increased gang activity, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) kicked off a five-part Community Dialogue on Gang Activity in February. The series met at Braddock Elementary School in Annandale through June with the goal of preventing the increasing gang-related activity in the Braddock District, especially in the Annandale area.

Bulova's office produced an informational newsletter, titled "Family and Community United," in response to the dialogues. That same month, however, the gang problem hit home, as Fairfax County police arrested 22-year-old Quincy L. Alexander for attempting to recruit a 14-year-old girl he met outside Lake Braddock Secondary School. Alexander was sentenced to three years in prison for attempting to start a Northern Virginia gang cell. The incident had far-reaching impact. In August, the Fairfax County Police Department hosted a week-long "Road Dawg" camp to introduce nearly 35 middle- and high-school students to the work of police officers and encourage them to avoid gangs, in an effort to prevent gang activity through increased awareness by teenagers.

Bus Options in Springfield

Springfield had new options for commuters wishing to ride buses, as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the South County Bus Plan in July. The plan rerouted existing bus lines to better accommodate riders, increased service by 25 percent, and built new bus shelters, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.

The Transportation Association of Greater Springfield (TAGS) got a new president, Jack Mutarelli, in July, and created a system of local commuter buses that circle Springfield on weekdays enabling consumers to use the buses, instead of their cars, for local trips.

In September, the Richmond Highway Express, known as REX, a new express-bus service, began running to take commuters up and down Route 1. The first phase of the project, which equipped the REX buses with transponders to sustain green traffic lights, enabling them to move up and down the Route 1 corridor more smoothly, began on Sept. 26

Revitalization Effort Gets Teeth

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority unveiled plans for the "Investing in Communities" program in October. The program, created in conjunction with the designated revitalization zones throughout the county, offers to assist small businesses in obtaining funds for renovations or constructing property. Through the program, $2.4 million is available in funding for businesses, with the hope of enticing current business owners to spruce up their property in central Springfield, and possibly luring new developers to the area.

Boundaries Drawn for New Lorton High School

Fairfax County Public Schools staff drew up the boundaries for the new high school to be located on the grounds of the correctional facility in Lorton.

Three public hearings took place in October and November to elicit feedback for the new boundaries for the school, which will be named this spring and will open in September. The meetings convened at Hayfield Secondary School and resulted in a proposed boundary plan, which was presented to the Fairfax County School Board in December. In the plan, Halley, Silverbrook, and Newington Forest Elementary, along with portions of Lorton Station Elementary, would feed the new high school. The School Board will vote on the proposed boundaries later this month.

Laurel Hill Reuse Moves Along

Established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Citizens Task Force began meeting in November 2002 to develop recommendations regarding the use of land on the former D.C. Correctional Facility in Lorton. On Dec. 19, the task force completed its two-year research and recommendation process, presenting its findings to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. These findings included converting the reformatory and penitentiary sites into retail and residential space.

In July, the Board of Supervisors made another move on the Laurel Hill property, voting to put the Laurel Hill Arts Center on 56 acres of the former prison property. The Arts Center would include a theater, music barn, and 40 units of housing for residents and visiting artists. Also in July, the Park Authority approved a plan for a 1,200-acre Laurel Hill Park, also to be located on the grounds of Lorton Prison.

Lake Accotink Dredged

Due to major silt buildup, Lake Accotink, located in Accotink Park in Springfield, was identified as a candidate for dredging by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Initially scheduled for the winter of 2003, the dredging process has yet to take place due to conflicts over the size of an initial bid by Mobile Dredging, the company that bid on the project.

The timeline for the project — which calls for removing over 150,000 cubic yards of sedimentation from the lake — has been moved back, and the Park Authority is currently accepting new bids for the project, which will go before the Board of Supervisors early this year.

Election Day Means Long Lines

Across Springfield, the presidential election in November drew long lines of voters to precincts. Greenspring Village in Springfield had a 90-percent voter turnout, in the first presidential election since the creation of a new voting precinct comprising just the residents of the Village in 2003.

Skate Park Opens at Wakefield Park

Following the initiative of college student Alex Bauer, skaters in the Braddock District had a place to call home when a skate park opened at Wakefield Park on Braddock Road in Annandale in April. The 21,000-square-foot facility is located north of the Audrey Moore Rec Center in Wakefield Park and was approved on a 2000 Park Authority Bond referendum at a cost of just under $1 million.

Byrd Library Up for Renovations

Fairfax County voters approved a $52.5 million library bond in November, meaning Richard Byrd Public Library in Springfield will receive a complete overhaul.

Under current plans, the renovations would not close the library and would involve a new entrance area, and improvements to increase visibility on the side of the library facing Commerce Avenue. The square footage of the library would increase to 18,200 under the plans.