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Looking Ahead to Laurel Hill Elementary

Laurel Hill residents discuss plans for new elementary school with officials.

Even though it is more than two years away from opening its doors, the planned Laurel Hill Elementary School is already stimulating conversation.

At an information session Tuesday, March 20 in the Laurel Hill Community Center, nearly 40 people gathered to get a first glimpse of the site plan for the new school, slated to open in September 2009.

“Opening a new school is a really exciting adventure,” said Betsy Fenske, Cluster V Assistant Superintendent. “Your children will be very fortunate to have this new school and I think we’re as eager as you are to have this.”

The new school, called Laurel Hill Elementary for now, will include 38 full classrooms, five kindergarten classrooms and space for a sixth if enrollment requires, and will take up 98,500 square feet on an 18.5 acre lot, said Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Early estimates put the cost for the new school, to be built near the community center on Laurel Crest Drive, at between $24 million and $25 million, Sneed said.

Blueprints for the school indicate that it will be two stories tall and will have two softball diamonds, a rectangular field, a paved recreation area and a playground.

“The closest idea to what this will look like is the Island Creek School,” Sneed said, a newer elementary school in Alexandria.

IN ADDITION to traditional classrooms, the new elementary school will have a room for English for Speakers of Other Languages students, a reading room, six rooms that could be used as classrooms, three music classrooms, two art rooms, two resource centers, open spaces in some pods for use by larger classes or special events and two school aged child care rooms.

Students will be released from buses near the cafeteria in the morning to avoid traffic congestion with kiss-and-ride drops, Sneed said. The parking lot will have 142 spaces.

“Funding for the school will come from a bond referendum on the ballot this fall,” Sneed said. “If it is passed, we’ll go out to bid as soon as possible, most likely in January or February of next year. It might take as long as 16 months to build the school, but I’ve built one in 10 months before.”

Starting in late 2008, Fairfax County Public Schools will begin to look for a principal at the school, who will help Cluster V administrators select the staff for the new school.

One parent, concerned that the school’s enrollment will be over its 950-student capacity as quickly as South County Secondary School, asked if there would be room for trailer classrooms on the site.

“I’ve got 18 and a half acres of land, I could build a whole school of trailers,” Sneed joked. “I don’t think the School Board wants to see that happen.”

For now, Pulte Homes is in the process of grading the land for the school, said Chris Williams. Pulte owns the property, which will be transferred to the school system once the grading is completed as part of a public-private partnership agreement written before South County was built three years ago.

“We should have all that work done by mid to late May, if not sooner,” Williams said. “We want to give the county some nice, flat land to play on.”

THOSE ATTENDING the meeting had only a few questions about the school, ranging from where buses will be parked and when construction will begin to the possibility of language immersion programs and what types of technology will be used at the school.

It is likely the school will have a full-day kindergarten program, said School Board member Ilryong Moon (At-large), who led the meeting for board chair Dan Storck, who could not attend.

“Fifty percent of our elementary schools have an all-day K program and it is the intent of the School Board to expand that to the rest of the county in the next few years,” Moon said.

When the new school opens, it will not have any sort of language immersion program, Fenske said.

“We have to have the staff and community involved in the school before taking on an immersion program,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see which schools are included in this pyramid and what the high school and middle school can support.”

Boundaries were the only topic off-limits for this meeting, but a few concerns about another study were allowed.

One parent asked if the boundary meetings for the elementary school would be scheduled in conjunction with those for the possible readjustment at South County.

“The community will be informed when the meetings occur,” Fenske said. “We encourage people to be involved early on because once we have the boundaries established, we’re hoping parents will want to start a PTA.”

The meetings will most likely occur on different nights, Fenske said, but will follow the same schedule of community meetings early in the process, followed by public hearings in early 2009 and a decision in late winter.

Fenske did say she thinks the only elementary schools included in the boundary study will be Lorton Station, Halley and Silverbrook, all located a short distance from the Laurel Hill site. Currently, Lorton Station and Silverbrook are over crowded, which should be alleviated when the new school opens.