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What’s Happening in Burke?

Burke Reads

The Burke Centre Library is one of two new county library branches to be built with funding from a $52.5 million library bond passed by voters in 2004. The Burke Centre Library is set to open in the spring of 2008.

“It’s very exciting,” said Sam Clay, director of the Fairfax County Public Library. “This is the third attempt to have this library built.”

The library is being constructed on land that was once a horse farm, near the intersection of the Fairfax County Parkway and Freds Oak Road.

Woods Center to Get Makeover

The Woods Community Center closed last year for renovations, but the planning stages have taken longer than expected. The Burke Centre Conservancy celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony at the Woods Center, Thursday, July 26. The Woods Community Center, at 10100 Wards Grove Circle, brings a bit of history to the Burke area, so the renovation and addition plans for the building are designed to preserve and emulate that history.

“The original house that was there when [the land was] acquired from the Conservancy was originally used as the Conservancy offices,” said Brenda Trask, Woods Community Center planning chairperson. “So it’s old. There have been no improvements to that building in all these years.”

Thomas Wade, former Burke Conservancy executive director, researched the history and concluded that the original house build sometime in the 1760s no longer exists, but remnants of it still do. The front of the current house, according to a report from the ETC Engineering and Consulting Firm in Sterling, is about 60 years old, which is why residents wanted to try to preserve it during the construction of the new community center.

Swim Club and Community Try to Coexist

The 20-year-old Burke Centre Swim Club is one of Burke Centre’s largest and most active charter organizations. According to a Burke Centre Conservancy letter mailed to all of Burke Centre’s residents on Thursday, Jan. 18, the club had 296 members in 2006, 162 of which were Burke Centre residents.

The club originally requested to extend its pool time by 30 minutes at the Landings and Ponds pools for a 33-day stretch, between June 19 and Aug. 5. The club requested to retain the same start time, 7:30 a.m., from years past, meaning the extra requested time would eat into the public’s use of the pools. Some residents weren’t happy with the request at a February meting, claiming that the Burke Centre Board of Trustees is ignoring the needs of the 2,500 other families who have pool memberships in order to appease the swimmers.

“Our community is located right next to the pool,” said Lisa Robinson, manager of Burke Centre Station Commons. “Not only do we have to have the noise level — the starter pistols, the megaphones and the kids screaming — but we have limited use of the pool.”

Luanne Smith, a resident and former Burke Center trustee, said the accommodation is too much, especially because only half of the swimmers are assessment-paying residents. Smith said the more popular pools should have earlier opening hours for the public, not later. The swim club cites its growing membership as the main reason it needs extra pool time.

The Burke Centre Board of Trustees established a pool task force shortly after the swim club issue turned some heads. The task force will collect pool usage data and examine the way the pools are managed, in an effort to make the pools, swim club and community coexist better. The task force is scheduled to make recommendations following the pool season, which ends in September.

Journalism Controversy at High School

Fairfax County Public Schools is paying closer attention to the way its high school newspapers are run, especially after some content in the student-run paper at Lake Braddock Secondary last spring that caused uproar in the community.

A March edition of Bear Facts, the student-written newspaper at Lake Braddock, included four stories that caused some concern among several parents. The controversial stories, about homosexuality, the Ouija Board, transgenderism and a review of a film about bestiality, didn’t belong in a high school newspaper, according to some parents. The Bear Facts sponsor, Daniel Weintraub, was removed from his newspaper adviser position after the incident. He remains an English teacher at the school.

The county is scheduling three journalism workshops for students, advisors and principals to attend this fall. The workshops will teach students about journalism ethics, among other things. A countywide change in the freedom of expression policy will not occur, per se, according to Paul Regnier, spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools.

The Bear Facts editors stand by their work, and still don’t know what exactly they did wrong, said Daphna Motro, one of the Bear Facts editors-in-chief for the upcoming school year. She said publishing the stories all in the same issue was probably a bit of an overload, but the staff stands by their decision to write each story and feels they practiced responsible journalism, she said. Administration still hasn’t spoken to the staff directly about why Weintraub was removed, she said.

Real Estate Market Changes

Buyers, sellers, brokers and lenders are experiencing a different real estate market in Northern Virginia compared to a couple years ago, and everyone is trying to anticipate the next trend. A slower market creates trends such as larger inventories, longer market-times and more price-reductions, making it a strong buyer’s market. Dave Meyers, owner of Meyers and McCabe Realtors, based in Burke, said foreclosures and short sales are the next real estate trend to look out for. Meyers said foreclosures are going to happen at alarming rates in upcoming years throughout Northern Virginia.

The City of Fairfax had three foreclosures in all of 2006, and so far this year, there have been 11 foreclosures. The foreclosures range all across the value scale. One foreclosure was valued at more than $950,000, and several were in the $450,000-$550,000 range. On the lower end of the scale was a condominium property.

In Burke Centre, there were no foreclosures in 2006, and there have been seven already in 2007, according to Conservancy data.

GMU Grows

George Mason University’s place in college basketball’s Final Four in 2006 focused attention on the university. University president Alan Merten said it "put GMU on the map." Also on GMU’s map are extensive additions to the university’s Fairfax campus.

More than 30,500 students enrolled at GMU in the 2006 fall semester — the highest in the school's 34-year history. The school received more than 11,000 freshman applications for that semester, which was an 8 percent increase from the previous year. The number of out-of-state applications was up 15 percent from the previous year. The school attributed most of the newfound popularity to the basketball team's success. The school, however, was already showing continuous growth before the basketball victories, which is why GMU has so many construction projects either underway or scheduled.

“We are desperately behind in space for what we are currently trying to do,” said Merten. “If you look at amount of square feet per student, we are far behind other doctoral institutions in Virginia, and probably nationally too.”

GMU has several construction projects underway on its Fairfax campus, including residence halls, retail shops, a visual arts building and an engineering building. The added academic buildings are for the university’s two fastest-growing schools, said Merten, but the school will need more academic buildings if it wants to continue to play catch-up to compete with other institutions.

Merten said the school still won’t meet its intended square footage ratios even after all of the current construction is completed. The university doesn’t plan to assess additional future growth projects, however, until it crosses the present construction hurdle, which could take years.

George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is comprised of 675 acres, split up into three sections. The largest part of the campus is 375 acres, located to the north of Braddock Road and just east of Chain Bridge Road. Across Chain Bridge Road is another 200 acres, and the western most part of campus, is 100 acres at the northeast corner of the Braddock and Shirley Gate Road intersection. The university estimates that it will see an enrollment increase of 16 percent by 2020, and space on campus will increase 102 percent, according to recent studies.

Big Election Year

All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs in 2007. It is also an election year for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board, the Commonwealth's Attorney, Sheriff, Commissioner of the Revenue, Treasurer, Clerk of Circuit Court and Soil and Water Directors.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) is running to retain her seat in November. Carey Campbell, an Independent, is challenging her seat. In the Springfield District, Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R) is retiring from her long run as supervisor in that district. Pat Herrity (R) and Mike McClanahan (D) are competing for the open seat.

J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen — a former Democratic state delegate — is running for Republican Jeannemarie Devolites Davis' seat in the 34th District of the State Senate. Northern Virginian Democrats did well in the 2006 election, but Devolites Davis' husband, Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), was able to hold onto his Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. School Board Representative Janet Oleszek is challenging Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37) in a combative State Senate race. Dels. David Bulova (D-37) and David Marsden (D-41) are unchallenged in the November election.

Royal Lake Spillway To Get Makeover

USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approved a plan to alter the Royal Lake Dam and auxiliary spillway so it curves away from a development of townhouses currently in its path. Based on the rehabilitation recommendations made by the NRCS at a June 20 community meeting in Fairfax, the final plan was approved by NRCS chief Arlen Lancaster in December.

“The current auxiliary spillway is a hazard to the townhouses downstream,” said Mat Lyons, state conservation engineer with NRCS.

NCRS is picking up 65 percent of the project's tab, which is estimated to total more than $3 million.

The spillway poses a threat to homes, businesses, roads and railroads in the event of heavy rainfall, about 24 inches in six hours, which is extremely severe and also unlikely. The State Dam Safety Agency has issued the county a Conditional Use Certificate to rehabilitate the dam and spillway in order to protect the surrounding community from a potentially disastrous flood. The extreme amount of precipitation that would cause erosion along the spillway is rare, but precipitation levels are much higher on average than they were when the dam was constructed 30 years ago, said NRCS officials.

The construction — costing an estimate of $2.5 million — is said to begin in the spring of 2008, Donald Rissmeyer, associate at A. Morton Thomas and Associates Inc. (AMT) said. AMT is a consulting group of engineers working with the county and federal government on this project.

VRE Garage Under Construction

The Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express parking garage, part of the Board of Supervisors’ Four-Year Transportation Plan, is currently under construction. The five-level parking structure will include 1,550 total spaces: 1,300 in the garage and 250 outside it. It will also have bus shelters, pedestrian amenities and a Kiss & Ride drop-off area.

The Burke Centre Station is the third largest in terms of ridership for the entire VRE system. Heavy use is usually the most common at the ends of the line, said Dale Zehner, chief executive officer of the VRE. The top two stations currently are the stations at the ends of the line, but he expects that might change once the Burke garage is built.