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Everything's Coming Up Lorton

Progress continues on multiple fronts for redevelopment of old prison land.

In the six years since the D.C. Department of Corrections prison in Lorton closed its doors, a flood of residents have moved into the area, mandating the construction of a high school and rows of homes. To better serve those new residents and to encourage growth in Lorton, a variety of new amenities and services are expected to move into the area in the next few years. Here is an overview on some of those new additions.

Sportsplex

The former youth detention facility may some day be home to the Lorton Sportsplex, featuring 15 outdoor lighted rectangular artificial turf fields and a 130,000 square foot field house, said Kirk Holley, manager of special projects for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Negotiations are currently in the works between the Park Authority and John Breheny, the founder of the Laurel Hill Sports Foundation, which would fund and build the Sportsplex.

"We have the permission of the Board of Supervisors to submit all of the county permitting applications, including a 2232, special exception request, a demolition plan and site plan," Holley said.

A 2232 is the term used for a review given to any proposed public facility to ensure it is in conformance with the county's Comprehensive Plan, Holley said.

While no groundbreaking date has been set by the Park Authority, Holley said Breheny is hoping to start work on the site by the end of the year.

A few hurdles with the plan already arisen, including the rejection of Breheny's original financial plan for the Sportsplex last fall.

"Since that time, he has made revisions to both the business plan and the financial plan to make it fiscally viable," Holley said.

The facility, if approved, would provide some much-needed rectangular fields that could be used year-round for various sports organizations in the area. Inside the field house, a concession stand would be included, but further details have not been finalized, Holley said.

"It's very difficult to say when we might get started on this because we still have to go through the public hearing process sometime this summer," he said. "We don't have a projected groundbreaking date yet, there's too many variables."

Cold War Museum

A group of former Nike missile silos will eventually be turned into the Cold War Museum, Holley said.

In early 2006, the Park Authority accepted a phase II proposal from museum founder Gary Powers Jr., which is a detailed plan for the funding and development of the site. Currently, the Park Authority is working with Powers to establish an interim operation agreement, which would allow Powers to move onto the site and create some presence as plans for the museum progress.

"The details aren't worked out yet, but I can say that the proposals they've provided for the interim agreement would involve use of a single building in the missile site on Hooes Road," Holley said.

Much like the Sportsplex plan, a groundbreaking date has not yet been established, but Powers has said he hopes to be in the interim building by the end of the year, Holley said.

"We don't have a date in mind at this time, it's still being negotiated," Holley said.

Equestrian Park

In the future, Fairfax County residents who want to spend a summer afternoon horseback riding may have the opportunity to do so in an equestrian park established on the former dairy farm site.

"The Park Authority reached an agreement last year with Fairfax 4 Horses that was negotiated in good faith for the purpose of trying to provide equestrian opportunities at Laurel Hill," Holley said. Fairfax 4 Horses has also been joined by the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riders in their support of an equestrian park, which may provide a barn and horses that can be used for physical therapy for special needs children and adults.

The county's Comprehensive Plan does show an area for an equestrian park in the same vicinity of the old dairy farm, Holley said. Fairfax 4 Horses has offered to raise money for the improvements on the site, which could run in the tens of millions of dollars to complete.

Some of the old dairy farm structures which are not considered historic may be demolished if the equestrian park becomes a reality, Holley said.

Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riders became involved with Fairfax 4 Horses after losing the lease on their current home, he said, and because they have a "pressing time issue," Holley said a decision of some sort on an interim facility may come within the next two months.

Cross County Trail

Countless walkers, joggers and bicyclists have used the Cross County Trail since its official opening last May, but some road bumps still exist that need to be smoothed out.

During a meeting of the South County Federation, some residents told Holley they were asked to leave the trail because they were trespassing.

"We received a handful of calls from people who say they were approached by private security on the trail and told to leave," Holley said. "We've responded by going along the trail and removing the residual 'no trespassing' signs from the areas that used to be prison land, but that was last fall. Until the other night, I hadn't heard any complaints in three or four months."

Holley said the trail is open to the public between dawn and dusk and clearly marked, but some of it does line up with what is still considered private or dangerous property.

"There is a detour around the Lorton Arts Foundation's Workhouse property and it's possible people are wandering off the trail onto their property," Holley said. "It's important for us to make sure the park is safe and the parts that are open for use are open and accessible to everyone."

Laurel Hill Golf Club Clubhouse

The Laurel Hill Golf Club opened a year and a half ago, but players still don't have a place to go for dinner after a round.

"We're anticipating it will be open to the public in April and there's a series of events planned in June for a grand opening," Holley said. "It's been challenging for us to get it open, but staff are starting to use the building now. It'll be a little while before we can officially open to the public."

The Clubhouse, when completed, will feature a pro shop, shower facilities and a bistro, Holley said.

Laurel Hill House and Garden Restoration

On Ox Road, across from the Griffith Water Treatment Plant, stands the Laurel Hill House, built in the 1700s complete with extensive gardens. Both the Fairfax County Park Authority and Department of Planning and Zoning hope to restore as much of the gardens and house as possible for use as a historic site.

"We are in the process of completing the historical analysis of the gardens at the Laurel Hill House which should be done early this spring," Holley said. "Right now, it's all woods and everything is overgrown."

Chris Caperton, project coordinator for Laurel Hill with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said the Board of Supervisors, which owns the house, is talking with a consultant to hire a preservation company to look at the house.

"We want to have someone come in and give us an idea of the costs associated with restoring the house," Caperton said. "We need to assess the quality of the structure and come up with plans to interpret the history of the site and how we might use it in the future."

Lorton Road Realignment

Drivers familiar with the stretch of Lorton Road between Ox Road and Silverbrook Road know to keep a watchful eye on the sharp curves, but soon those curves may be a thing of the past.

"The Department of Transportation is working with a consultant to finalize the preliminary design of a realigned Lorton Road, between Silverbrook and Hooes Roads," Caperton said.

The early stages of planning for the road is completed, the county is waiting for the initial designs to be finalized before contracting an engineering firm to create the final plans and then work can begin, he said.

"The final engineering will fine tune some of the more specific locations relatives to driveways, access points for the Park Authority and the location of bike paths and the Cross County Trail," Caperton said.

The road will be straightened out and a median of some kind will be installed to give the road a "park-like feel," Caperton said. Work on the road may be completed in 2008.

Crucifix Restoration

A crucifix made by a former inmate that was removed from the prison's chapel in December has been cleaned and restored and will be brought back to Fairfax County in April.

"I had a chance to see it a few weeks ago and it looks good, the preservationist who worked on it did a good job on cleaning it out," Caperton said.

Eventually, the crucifix will be housed in a museum on the Lorton Arts Foundation's site, Caperton said, but the county is still trying to find an interim home for the sculpture.

Adaptive Reuse Construction

Last fall, the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning issued a request for proposals to solicit bids from developers about potential uses for the former maximum security portion of the prison. Two RFPs were received, but neither met the criteria listed in the original request, Caperton said.

A Request for Qualifications is currently in the works, which would bring together the county's planners with a master developer to determine reuse possibilities for the structures "based on the site constraints and opportunities," Caperton said. "I have a draft RFQ floating around to various staff members now, so hopefully we'll be able to send that out this spring. It won't be as extensive as the original RFP because we're just looking at the qualifications for reusing those buildings."

The county is currently repairing the roof on the maximum security facility and a few others, including the grandstand of the former baseball diamonds, in preparation for reuse later, Caperton said.