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City Closes in on Community Center

Funding authorized for analysis of a possible community center at Van Dyck Park.

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Fairfax’s Van Dyck Park may be the site of a future community center that will cater to the needs of area children, seniors and community organizations.

The City of Fairfax took its first official steps toward establishing a full-time, permanent community center at a Sept. 25 public hearing when the City Council authorized spending $20,000 to analyze the possibility of using Van Dyck Park as its future site.

"Right now, the question is whether or not we can fit something there, and if so, what would its size be?" said Michael McCarty, director of the Fairfax City Department of Parks and Recreation. "We’re at the very early stage, we’re just at the beginning of this process."

The contract for the conceptual design of a potential community center at the park or elsewhere was awarded to Sterling-based design contractor The Hughes Group. When the analysis is completed in the coming months, the city will have a clearer picture of the potential amenities and costs of the project, according to McCarty.

"At this point, we’re not 100 percent sure that we can even fit a community center on that property," he said. "Given a little more time, we should be able to see what is possible and open it up to the council and the community."

A FAIRFAX CITY community center has been a goal of the municipal government and community leaders for more than 20 years, said city councilmember Patrice Winter.

"As time marches on and things progress, the city is improving in so many ways," said Winter, referring to the redevelopment of the downtown and growing number of amenities for residents. "A city of our size needs to have a community center."

In the past, Fairfax residents and community groups have relied on aging municipal buildings for community activities, such as the Green Acres and the John C. Wood centers. The natural limitations inherent in using the buildings as makeshift community gathering places have left many of the city’s community groups without a serious home for their collective efforts, said Winter.

"What we are using now and have used in the past is very inefficient and sub-par," she said. "We have groups in town that need places to go."

VAN DYCK PARK has been the focal point of discussions for placement of a community center for several years, said McCarty.

"This seems to be the place that we’ve identified more or less … for placing it," he said.

Van Dyck Park, located just south of downtown on the 3700 block of Old Lee Highway and owned by Fairfax, is the originating point of many of the city’s trails and is within walking distance of the city’s downtown, making it an "excellent place" for a community center, said Winter.

"It can be a center for community activities that is walkable, ridable [for cyclists], we want a place where people can have easy access," she said. "This is right here in the middle of the community, where people of all ages can come."

Van Dyck , which is already home to the city’s skate park facility and playgrounds, will be analyzed to see exactly what can fit, according to city manager Bob Sisson.

"At this point, we’re trying to firm up a concept and come upon a mutual understanding of what we can place there," Sisson said. "We’ll present a bulk and size analysis and if the council feels that it is the most appropriate place, we’ll move forward with the process."

If the site is deemed not appropriate or it does not meet the desires of the council, different locations may be considered, according to Sisson. After an understanding of what a future community center will look like, the city will move forward with allocation of funding, either through a public referendum, capital improvement funds or other sources, he added.

WHILE A COMMUNITY pool is most likely not a possibility given some of the constraints of Van Dyck Park, other community needs can be addressed at the community center, said McCarty, such as space for cultural arts groups.

For Winter, the center should be as versatile as possible and promote the local cultural movements. She said she expects the center to house meeting rooms, amenities geared to the fine arts, activities for children and seniors and the possibility of musical and dramatic rehearsal and performance space.

"We have so many groups here in the community, this can be a place where these community groups come together and do the things that they love," she said. "With our schools and our downtown growing, now is the time to make this a reality."