The Cold War Museum is still in the process of getting a permanent home in Lorton, but when it does, students at the new secondary school nearby will be closer than ever to the museum's resources.
Superintendent Jack Dale of Fairfax County Public Schools, along with Principal Dale Rumberger and Francis Gary Powers Jr., director of the Cold War Museum, announced a public/private partnership between the school and museum at a ceremony on Thursday, March 3, at the Fairfax City Museum and Visitors Center.
"We are looking at it as co-promotion of each other’s efforts. We can help get curriculum of Cold War studies into the classroom, and from the classroom, we can get students and faculty to assist with our efforts, on a very tight budget," said Powers, who helped to found the nonprofit Cold War Museum in 1996.
While specifics of the partnership have yet to be ironed out, several guidelines were outlined in the document that all three men signed. They are support of curriculum in the high school dealing with Cold War studies from 1945-91, guest speakers, student internships at the Museum, docent opportunities for students and family members, and student support of the Museum through marketing courses, curriculum and public relations efforts.
The goal, according to Rumberger, was to take advantage of the proximity of the new school to the proposed site for the Museum, less than a mile from the school's location on Silverbrook Road.
"It’s unique, so are we, a little," said Rumberger of the partnership. "The opportunity to be on the ground floor of building that collection, understanding the pieces of the collection, which in turn can be shown to the students and teachers in order to broaden and deepen the meaning, when you say ‘Cold War’ — it was too much to pass up."
THE COLD WAR Museum has been seeking a permanent home nearly since its inception. The over $2 million worth of artifacts — among them a SAM-2 missile and a Stasi prison door — are in various locations across Fairfax County and the United States. Powers and the rest of the Museum Board of Directors have their eyes on a 20-acre plot of land near the corner of Hooes and Furnace roads in Lorton for the Museum. In addition to several buildings that would be used for the Museum's main exhibit halls, the site also contains six Nike-Hercules missile bunkers, part of the U.S. strategic defense system during the Cold War. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors set aside land for a Cold War Heritage Park and Cultural Museum in its master plan for the Laurel Hill area, and Powers is currently awaiting approval from the Fairfax County Park Authority to use the land for the Museum. He said he hopes that will happen sometime next month.
"The Museum was founded … after giving lectures to high-school students and realizing that most, if not all high-school students had a very vague recollection of what the Cold War was," said Powers. "If they were 15 then, they were born in 1981 or 1982. For them, the Cold War was over by the time they were 8 or 9 years old. Their consciousness wasn’t really aware of the 45-year struggle that we endured."
In addition to learning more about the Cold War, Springfield resident Neal McBride said he believes the partnership will be important to preserving the history that occurred in Lorton.
"This partnership is a great boon to both remembering the history of the site, but more importantly, how that history interacts with the rest of the country," said McBride, who has two children who attend Newington Forest Elementary School and will ultimately attend the new school.
Rumberger said the prospect of using the Cold War Museum's resources will hopefully bring new depth to the history curriculum at the new school.
"What’s great is it’s a museum that approached us as a partner, in order to be the conduit to give more meaning to the learning. As late as 1974, there were 16 boomers, 3-5 megaton [missiles], in little Lorton. I moved here in 1977, I had no idea," he said.
It also means that with this partnership, said Rumberger, his school will be less than 500 feet from the former missile control center of the Nike-Hercules missiles.
"Our schools that want to have us as a rival should maybe be careful," Rumberger said.