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Albo Finds Middle School Solution?

Del. Dave Albo looks to Army to provide land to sell to fund South County Middle School.

Looking to answer two problems with one solution, Del. Dave Albo (R-42) is hoping a creative land swap could bring about a South County Middle School.

Albo is suggesting the Army consider selling a portion of its land, perhaps along Route 1 near Fort Belvoir, to a developer. He believes funding from the sale of the land, or its development, could be used to fund a middle school near South County Secondary, which would allow all students currently enrolled there to continue to study together.

"[U.S. Rep.] Tom Davis (R-11) got us land for free for the high school, which we gave to developers to build the adult living community across the street from the school," Albo said. "This time, I'm trying to get us land from the Army instead of the U.S. Department of Corrections."

It doesn't seem that Albo's suggestion has a memorable impact on Fairfax County School employees or community members.

"There's a lot of things in play here, but I don't know what he's talking about," said Gary Chevalier, chair of the Office of Facilities Planning for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Chevalier said some have suggested selling the site dedicated to the Laurel Hill Elementary School and using the proceeds from that sale to move construction of the middle school up in the school system's capital improvement plan, but even that is no guarantee.

"That proposal doesn't negate the fact that we still have hundreds and hundreds of seats in schools on either side of South County that were just renovated to the tune of $120 million," Chevalier said, referring to extra capacity at Hayfield and Lake Braddock Secondary schools.

In addition, Chevalier said the site for the Laurel Hill school would be difficult to give up, considering its location would make it a community school where students could walk every day.

IF A DECISION were made to sell that property, Chevalier said the School Board would first have to surplus the property to the Board of Supervisors. Any proceeds would be added to the capital improvement fund, not dedicated to one particular school unless mandated by the Board of Supervisors.

Albo said he didn't have any particular site in mind for the Army to use for a land swap.

"That's a decision the Army would have to make," he said.

But it's not a suggestion the Army has made any move on.

"I don't know of anyone down here that has been able to give this idea the time of day," said Don Carr, public relations spokesman for Fort Belvoir. "Only the Secretary of the Army can make decisions about Army real estate."

Carr said he vaguely remembers Albo's statement, made during a BRAC Commission public hearing hosted by U.S. Reps. Jim Moran (D-8) and Tom Davis R-11) on Thursday, Aug. 31.

"From my level, this is not something that Belvoir can make any comment on," Carr said. "If any Army real estate is to be sold, traded or taken out of Army inventory, the only person who can make that decision is the Secretary of the Army."

Dave Foster, an Army spokesperson, said the Army would need to have more discussions and analysis before making a decision on the issue.

"If the Army determines there is excess real property at Fort Belvoir, absent special legislation authorizing the Secretary of the Army to convey the property in another manner, the Army is required to report it to GSA for disposal under the Federal Real Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949," Foster said, in an e-mail. "Under the public discount conveyances section of that law the property could still be provided to the local community for educational purpose."

With an election only a few weeks away, Albo said he hopes Davis is re-elected and returns to his seat in Congress to put his political weight behind Albo's idea.

"The Army won't listen to Dave Albo, but they might listen to a Congressman," he said.

Even if his idea were wholeheartedly adopted by the Army, Albo said it would be at least two years before a middle school could be opened, if the school system approved its construction.

"No one at the school system is thinking outside the box about getting this school built," Albo said. "There's no progressive thinking at all, they're basically telling everyone to forget about it."

After attending a boundary study meeting at South County last week, Albo said he's concerned that enrollment projections that the School Board believes shows adequate capacity at Hayfield and Lake Braddock to absorb extra South County students is flawed.

"The numbers they're using don't take into account the residential components of the KSI plan at MidTown Springfield and the redevelopment of the Springfield Mall," he said. "Their numbers don't even account for BRAC. There should have been an option four at that meeting, to build a middle school and ask people for ways to get it done."

IT REMAINS uncertain whether the school system wants to build a middle school.

Dean Tistadt, assistant secretary for facilities and transportation, said earlier this year that he doesn't believe a need exists for a middle school because of the extra seats at Hayfield and Lake Braddock.

"The middle school will remain in the Capital Improvements Plan as a place holder in case there are factors that we don't anticipate that would mean we'd need the extra seats," Tistadt said.

If a land swap went through and the money were made available right away, Tistadt said he'd prefer to see it dedicated to schools that need help.

"We'd rather the funding go to actual needs, not potential needs like this middle school," he said.

School Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) has a slightly different perspective.

"I think we'd all love to welcome his idea, but the question is, who has the land to swap," Storck said.

A land swap would be beneficial to the entire community, but the challenge is finding someone willing to give up land for the greater good, he said.

"It would be nice for the Army and federal government to recognize what they're going to do with BRAC will have a serious impact on our community, both good and bad," Storck said. "They have a responsibility, I think, to help mitigate that impact. We need their help."

Lisa Adler, often credited as one of the citizen activists who found ways to get South County Secondary built several years before it was originally projected, said she'd support Albo's plan if it meant the middle school became a reality.

"This is one of many ideas that's being batted about," Adler said. "Nothing's in cement yet, but we'd love to have the middle school here."

So many people, both on the School Board and in the community, are focused on the boundary study the creativity needed to find ways to fund and build a middle school are in the background, Adler said.

"I can't imagine anyone would say no to this idea," she said. "We've thought about doing this thing any which way we can."