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Clearing the Air

One month after controversial board matter, Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) sets the record straight.

During the Nov. 9 South County Federation meeting, Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) had a few things on his mind.

A board matter he presented during the Oct. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting had "taken on a life of its own," he said, and he wanted to set things straight.

"Five years ago, I suggested to the Board of Supervisors that the Lorton School building was a valuable piece of property and we ought to sell it and do whatever with the proceeds," said Hyland. That idea led to his suggestion last month that the Board of Supervisors support a discussion between the board and the Fairfax County School Board about listing the building as surplus, selling it and possibly using the money for a middle school in the Lorton area.

Currently, the Lorton School building houses the transportation offices for the southern part of the county, which is in need of a new facility. Several projects, including the expansion of a ramp for I-95 and the proposed Inova Lorton Healthplex, would benefit from the sale of the building as well, he said.

Following that Oct. 17 meeting, residents in the Lorton area became concerned about Hyland's suggestion, raising questions about the possibility of a bus facility in what was envisioned to be a mixed-use residential and commercial area. Some residents asked if the money could be dedicated to one specific school project and not placed in the general Capital Improvement Project fund; its use to be decided by the School Board.

"If the Board of Supervisors sells the property, which we would do if it was listed as surplus, we decide what to do with the money," said Hyland.

"For those cynics who question the timing of the motion and say it was intended to establish a maintenance facility in Laurel Hill and park a bunch of buses there, they just didn't get it," he said. "I thought this was just a simple motion but in retrospect, I'm not so sure it was a good idea."

IF THE SCHOOL Board decided to sell the property on its own, it would have the final say over what happened with any profits remaining after the transportation office was relocated. "This proposal did not preempt any decision to be made by the School Board," said Hyland. "If they didn't like it, that's the end of the story."

With recent enrollment projections showing the South County Secondary School over capacity by more than 700 students by the 2010-11 school year, the need for a middle school "should be higher" on the CIP list, said Hyland, adding that the School Board "blew it" with the initial enrollment predictions.

"This was my attempt to do something rather than sit back and do nothing," he said. "In my 18 years of public office, I've never had an experience like this."

The Lorton School building houses the transportation headquarters for the southern part of Fairfax County, along with some offices for special education and programs like Child Find, said Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent of facilities for the Fairfax County School System.

The school system has been looking for a new facility for the complex, he said, because the Lorton School building isn't large enough to meet its needs. The building will not be sold by any board until a replacement facility has been determined, he said.

"The transportation pieces and the special education facilities do not need to be co-located," said Tistadt, but the county does have a shortage of space available for bus parking.

"Ideally, I'd like to have space for between 30 and 40 buses" to park at a new facility, said Tistadt. The facility would also have to have room for as many as 70 employees.

HYLAND'S SUGGESTION to move the transportation office to the former administration building at the former Lorton prison site was "translated to the School Board as more than a suggestion, it was seen as the Board of Supervisors taking action that implications to the CIP," said Tistadt.

However, the two boards have had a joint meeting since then which allowed the issue to be discussed in depth, Tistadt said. "The School Board is not angry with Mr. Hyland. There were some initial concerns but once the boards got together to talk, it was all taken care of," he said.

Currently, FCPS has no facilities that would adequately fit the needs of the transportation office, said Gary Chevalier, director of the Office of Facilities Planning Services.

"If there is a way to provide the parking space we need, we'll look into it," Chevalier said.

However, he acknowledged that "the Lorton School building is an old building and we do need to provide a new facility."

If the School Board sells the Lorton School building on its own without listing it as surplus, it would have sole authority over what happens with any proceeds. "If the money can be put toward capital projects, everyone benefits," said Chevalier.

At the Nov. 9 South County Federation meeting, some residents said they were still unsure why the issue was brought up in the first place.

"My concern was that the board matter ... led me to believe there would be buses parked on the Laurel Hill site," said Peter Dickinson, president of the Laurel Hill Civic Association.

Fairfax Station resident Liz Bradsher said she was initially "pleased" by Hyland's motion, hoping to see progress on the middle school as a result of the sale of the Lorton School building.

"The next morning, I got so many calls from School Board members, I had to take the day off work," said Bradsher. "The impression they have of the South County area is not a good one right now."

Residents who have been working to secure funding for a middle school are "in a tight spot right now" because of projected enrollment numbers for the 2006-07 school year, Bradsher said.

"I'd like to go back 10 years and see how much money was spent on schools in the rest of the county compared with here," said Hyland. "The money has always gone to where the need is, and right now the need is here. [School Board members] need to recognize that."