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Promise of a New Year

School boundary changes, redevelopment of historic properties hot topics for 2007.

The New Year promises big changes for families across the southern and western parts of Fairfax County, as the School Board determines the boundary for South County Secondary and residents of Clifton hope for more historic preservation.

On Feb. 23, the School Board will vote on a proposed changed to the boundary of South County Secondary School, which could reduce the population at the school to below its current enrollment of 3,000 students in a school built for 2,500 students.

"I can't imagine anything bigger in this area than the final boundary study decision by the School Board," said Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent for general services with Fairfax County Public Schools.

In December, Office of Facilities Planning Chairman Gary Chevalier made his recommendation to the School Board, which would move students in the Lorton Station and Lorton Valley neighborhoods to Hayfield Secondary, to help ease the strain on South County's facilities. The move would leave Hayfield at about 92 percent capacity, while South County would remain seriously overcrowded, at about 120 percent capacity.

The recommendation also gives members of the community and local leaders two years to find a way to fund construction of a middle school for South County, currently on the School Board's Capital Improvement Project list for 2014. Chevalier and Tistadt, however, have said in the past that both Hayfield and Lake Braddock Secondary schools have sufficient capacity to absorb the extra students and no additional school is needed.

Public hearings are scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9 for parents to voice their concerns or share their thoughts on the recommendation.

Discussions will continue in 2007 about the feasibility of moving up construction of the Laurel Hill Elementary school, which would ease overcrowding at Lorton Station and Silverbrook Elementary schools. An additional $5 million was added to the School Board's Capital Improvement Program, which could allow construction to start on the school earlier. Currently the school is slated to open for the 2010-11 school year; additional funding may allow the school to open in 2009.

OTHER BIG CHANGES to the Lorton area include the opening of the Clubhouse at the Laurel Hill Golf Course. The golf course itself opened in October 2005, but weather delayed completion of the Clubhouse itself, which will feature a pro shop, bistro grill and full service restaurant.

"We're in the process of applying for our occupancy permit," said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

"The building is substantially complete and after we get the permits, we'd be moving staff into the building," Pedersen said. "We anticipate it to be open in March or early spring. We anticipate having some kind of an opening and those plans will be coming together soon."

This is yet another piece of the reinvention of Lorton, said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).

"We're finding that things are springing out of the ground that will bring increased opportunities for people who live here in terms of being able to recreate, with 1,200-plus acres of park land" that were acquired by the county after the closure and sale of the former Lorton prison in 2000.

Plans for a proposed Cold War Museum, to be built on a former Nike Missile site on Furnace Road, are expected to be voted on in 2007, as are plans for the closing of the Lorton Debris Landfill which could be changed into parkland. Discussion about a proposed Sportsplex are also in the works, in addition to an equestrian center to be built on the prison's former dairy farm.

ONE PROJECT that still faces some uncertainty is the one-lane wooden bridge over Gunston Cove Road, which was closed to traffic several years ago.

"That bridge took people off Route 1 and put them right onto the I-95 ramp," said Dudley Howard, an engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Residents had to drive through the construction area when Lorton Road was being fixed, when in the past they drove across the bridge to avoid the work.

The Gunston Cove Road bridge is owned by CSX, the railroad company that owns the tracks underneath it, said Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman.

Any plans to renovate or redesign and re-open the bridge are currently the responsibility of Hyland and the county government, Hall said. He added that a few months ago in a meeting between VDOT and Fairfax County, it was asserted that it would be the county's responsibility make the bridge a priority in the VDOT six-year road construction plan. "Funding is allocated to a project once it's in the plan," he said.

Hyland said $800,000 left from the Lorton Road project has been dedicated to rebuilding the bridge.

"VDOT was supposed to come back with a design and estimate [for the bridge]," Hyland said. "We were working together to get this done."

Renovation work is underway at the former Lorton Prison Workhouse, which is the future home of the Lorton Arts Foundation.

In 2006, the Foundation signed a lease with the county for ownership of the property. Their plans for renovation include several studios and gallery spaces, restaurants that will be rented by outside companies and some loft residential space for artists who wish to live and work at the site.

The project, which has garnered public support and approval, is only one of many adaptive reuse possibilities for the former prison site. When the county went through the process of having the prison campus listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, some members of the community questioned the move, stating that developers wouldn't be interested in submitting proposals that were subject to federal rules and regulations.

In October, a Request For Proposals (RFP) was sent out to developers, asking for their suggestions or possible plans to reuse existing structures and help transform the prison property. When the deadline passed in November, only two RFPs were received.

No public discussion has occurred nor has information been distributed about the two submissions as of the first of the year, but more information should become available in the first few months of 2007.

ANOTHER HISTORIC district is hoping to maintain its heritage, as a local developer has offered to purchase, renovate and maintain Old Town Hall in Clifton in perpetuity, while allowing the town's governing body to operate the facility.

Royce Jarrendt, a developer whose office is adjacent to Old Town Hall, has been negotiating the terms of purchasing the property. He has shown plans to renovate the building and the lot next to it to feature three to five small offices, a conference room and make upgrades to Old Town Hall. In addition, he has offered to maintain the property and grounds for as long as he owns the property.

A contract should be signed between Jarrendt and the Town Council in early 2007 and work would begin shortly thereafter.

To help the Town of Clifton maintain its small-town charm, plans are also underway to have utility wires installed underground, beginning in late January.

Mike Anton, the vice mayor of the Town Council, has been working with both Cox and Verizon to have their utility wires installed underground on Main Street to Chapel Road. Cox will begin their work in January, while Verizon, which just entered into a franchise agreement with the town to provide digital cable and voice services, will start their installation within a few months.