Islamic Saudi Academy Heads Toward End of its Lease on Richmond Highway

Controversial school to move next year; future of building to be determined.

July will mark the beginning of the end of the Saudi Islamic Academy’s lease on Richmond Highway, ending a long and contentious relationship with a school that opponents consider a training ground for terrorists. Fairfax County officials say the lease runs out July 2013, and they will not be entertaining any more extensions. “We are not agreeing to any further extensions of the lease,” said Merni Fitzgerald. “Future use of the site has not yet been decided.” In October 2010, members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing to consider extending the lease of the controversial school. Opponents howled with derision when supporters defended the school. In the end, supervisors voted to extend the lease of county-owned land at 8333 Richmond Highway to Saudi Arabia, generating about $2.6 million a year. Back in January, Fairfax County officials agreed to a final one-year lease extension. Now the school is looking to the future, although it’s unclear exactly what will become of the Saudi Islamic Academy. “The decision is made by the Saudi Embassy of where we are located, and it’s totally in their hands,” said Ronald Schultz, acting director general/chief of staff. “They determine the lease and the location of the school because they are the primary funding source.” Calls to the Islamic Embassy were not returned. THE BUILDING on Richmond Highway was originally constructed as Mount Vernon High School, a brick building where generations of teenagers attended classes. But by the late 1980s it was in disrepair and the school system decided it no longer needed the facility. In 1989, the county executed the first lease with the royal embassy of Saudi Arabia doing business as the Islamic Saudi Academy. The terrorist attacks in 2001 changed the perception of many Fairfax County residents, though. Now detractors say the school is indoctrinating a generation of radical Islamic terrorists who will try to implement Sharia law in America. “Their graduates are a rogues gallery of people who spend their weekends photographing bridges,” said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anit-Shariah Task Force, during the 2010 public hearing. “Get as tough with those people as you do the people who aren’t cleaning up their front yards.” Officials with the Islamic Academy have anticipated moving from the Richmond Highway location for some time. The academy has another site on Pope’s Head Road in Fairfax Station, and school officials say they are looking at other potential locations throughout the county. Because the Richmond Highway facility already has a long history with the public school system, Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) says the facility could be used by Fairfax County Public Schools. “We don’t have a magnet school for the arts in this county,” said McKay, whose district is across the street from the facility. “This would be an ideal location.” FAIRFAX COUNTY officials extended the lease without members of the Board of Supervisors taking action in accordance with the terms of the contract. That saved the elected officials from yet another contentious public hearing, one that might expose more tension between the elected leaders. The last time the lease was considered Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) offered a motion that would have denied the lease extension in favor of finding an ultimate disposition of the property. Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) agreed with Cook, pointing out that the way the agreement is worded the matter would be docketed for another public hearing until four years had elapsed. “This school has been a darn good neighbor to the citizens that live closes to it,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said at the end of the contentious 2010 hearing. “The academy is not going to be there forever. We know that.”