With no place to call home, the Northern Virginia Christian Academy went on a mission to find the perfect building for its new school. When church board members stumbled across Westmore Elementary School in Fairfax, the vacant school exceeded their hopes and prayers.
“It’s just been an amazing process,” said Vickie Hull, one of the Christian school’s eight board members.
The search for a new home started when the school, formerly part of the Fair Oaks Church, got word last February that the church would be closing it down to focus on its ministries. Some parents and faculty wanted to explore other options rather than just closing down, so they began brainstorming ideas for locations, said Hull. “Before you know it, we were all looking.”
The idea to look into leasing the former Westmore School, at 11000 Berry St., came early on from one parent, but parents and faculty members weren’t sure it would work out. The former school building became vacant when the city School Board moved its students into the new Providence Elementary School during winter break in 2001. Around the same time, a school in Reston burned down and temporarily moved into Westmore until the end of the school year. The county school board then leased the building from the city to use for administrative offices toward the end of 2001, and when the county's new complex recently opened in Falls Church, they no longer needed the building, said Linda Pierce, city School Board clerk.
When some parents from Northern Virginia Christian Academy heard about the vacancy, they wanted to explore whether the school would be a good fit for the academy. They were having such trouble finding an appropriate location, that they even began looking at splitting the K-12 school into two churches before Westmore looked like it would be a sure thing. Hull said it would be tough to find a place that could house 170 students with an expected enrollment increase of more than 100 percent in the three years, but they knew Westmore would be up to the challenge, said Hull.
At the July 11 City Council meeting where the special use permit application was heard, councilmembers spent more than one hour discussing the details of the lease and permit. Some councilmembers expressed concern for public use of the athletic fields during the lease term, and some wanted the lease term to be shorter than the proposed three years with a two-year renewal option.
“I anticipated something of a much shorter duration,” said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.
THE CITY COUNCIL did approve the special use permit for the lease, allowing the academy to occupy the Westmore school in the R-3 residential district. The permit will expire in three years and the school will then have to reapply for the permit in order to renew its lease for two more years. Holly Marcario, vice-president of the academy’s board of directors, said the school would love to stay in that site for a long time, but doesn’t expect any long-term decisions from City Council until they see how the school fits in with the city. The surrounding community came to support the school at the July council meeting, speaking out to tell councilmembers that the school will fit in just fine with the rest of the neighborhood.
“We were the ones who wanted to get the school in there in the first place,” said Gary Perryman. “The school being used as a school I think is a great idea.”
Councilmembers went back and forth on the details of parking, athletic fields and enrollment before coming to an agreement on the lease term and the length of the special use permit. Now that the school has a green light to open on Monday, Aug. 28, faculty and staff have been moving in and making the school their own over the last few weeks. Hull said the timing of the entire process was perfect. Without the legal counsel from Steve Benson, Hull said they would have been lost. Since Benson is the parent of an incoming senior, Hull said he might not have helped out if it had been one year later.
“Never in our wildest dreams and hopes and prayers did we ever think we would get this,” said Hull.
The board had a lot of prayers during the process of finding a new school. They met twice a week, said Hull, to pray together for a new school. After the shock of their old school closing down and the task of finding a new school in just a few months time, Hull said everyone is thankful to God for their accomplishments.
“I believe it’s God; I want to give God the credit,” said Hull. “He’s given us what we’ve needed when we’ve needed it, so we don’t take anything for granted.”