About 100 people attended an Open House on Thursday, April 5, on what to do with the 42-acre site composing the original Mount Vernon High School at 8333 Richmond Highway and the George Washington Recreation Center located at 8426 Old Mount Vernon Road. Hosted by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, the intent of the meeting was to seek input from residents on how to redevelop the historic school built in 1939 and the adjacent property.
In the first of many meetings to come, Storck, county staff, and developers from The Alexander Company and Elm Street Development shared project background and planning information while giving residents the opportunity to help set the project’s vision and goals.
Storck urged those in attendance to “help us find and create the kind of community that we can be proud of not only 10 years from now but decades from now. Let’s all work together to re-envision what this original Mount Vernon High School should be for the 21st century,” he said.
“This is our opportunity to create something remarkable, to truly redevelop a 1939, depression-era building and make it something we can be proud of for decades to come,” said Storck. “This is also a major opportunity for public investment in the Richmond Highway Corridor.”
Dubbed the Original Mount Vernon High School (OMVHS) Redevelopment Project, organizers discussed the vision, opportunities and process for the development of the master plan. Information tables were set up as well as community feedback stations. The plan will include adapting the historic structures into community spaces for use by a mix of public, private, residential, educational, recreational and nonprofit uses.
“This is really the beginning of planning the site; what we’ve been doing up to this point is doing physical investigation of the site, understanding the constraints and the opportunities that the site physically has to offer, but we are starting in the process now of understanding what the community wants and what the community’s concerns might be on this redevelopment,” said David Vos, development project manager with The Alexander Company of Madison, Wisc.
Built in 1939 in Colonial revival architecture, the building was a county high school and middle school before being the home of the Islamic Saudi Academy for 31 years. It became available for redevelopment in October 2016. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors owns the 22-acre school property and the Fairfax County Park Authority owns the George Washington RECenter and parkland on the southeast side.
Fairfax County approved an agreement to create a master redevelopment plan for the site. The Alexander Company and Elm Street Development were selected to work with county staff, the Park Authority and the Mount Vernon and Lee District communities to create a master plan.
According to Stefanie Smith of Elm Street Development of McLean, the county tasked the Revitalization Task Force to come up with possible uses for this facility. “Our role here is to develop the Master Plan for this site and the rec center and all that’s in between — the 42 acres. So, what we’re doing is validating what people told the task force that they wanted, validating that information, ensuring we can take that into account when we do the plans. The idea is to have a plan that fulfills the goals that Fairfax County has, which is everything from serving the entire community from early childhood all the way to senior citizens.”
Stephanie Pankiewicz of LandDesign of Alexandria, land planners and landscape architects on the team, added: “Our role tonight is listening to hear from the community about their hopes and aspirations for the project and we’ll be translating that into the land planning for the project throughout the summer and spring as part of the timeline process.”
Some of the potential uses for the site include: public and private uses and spaces; open spaces and facilities for recreation; connecting local employment referral sources and providing opportunities to small and local businesses; housing for a broad range of age and income levels; nonprofit and incubation spaces; adaptive reuse of the historic structure; multimodal access connecting the site to the larger community; educational facilities and opportunities, public and or private; coordinated and integrated phasing of development; high-quality building and site design complementing the historic nature of the site; or complementing the services provided at the South County Government Center.
The timeline for the project includes: Spring 2018 – Community Open House; Spring/Summer 2018 – Redevelopment Master Planning, including community outreach and engagement; Summer 2018 – County Evaluation of Redevelopment Options; Fall 2018 – Community outreach of the proposed master plan; and in the Future – Funding, land use actions, design and implementation of redevelopment master plan.
According to Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon School Board representative: “It’s so exciting to be back in this building where I went to middle school and was able to chair the original visioning task force and now to see the county invest in this building and make it the center of the Mount Vernon community. It’s a great opportunity for both economic and social renewal.”
Added state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36): “I’m excited to see the building return to community use. The building is a local historic landmark and it’s important that the historic integrity of the building remain. Whatever the project is, it will be a nice complement to the Embark Process and the Bus Rapid Transit station that’s going to be out in front.”
He said: “The only piece that I’d like to see more of is more recreational fields incorporated as part of whatever the final plan is. We have a real shortage of recreational fields in this part of Fairfax County. This site has potential for some high-quality, multi-use soccer, football, softball and baseball fields, which I think would be a shame if we missed that chance.”
According to Storck: “We had a fabulous turnout; we’ve got an energized public. We have people who are thinking and offering ideas in ways that we can improve and enhance this gorgeous historic public asset, and I’m totally thankful that we have that kind of civic engagement and commitment from our community.”
The public is encouraged to email their ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Visit www.originalmountvernonhs.org or call 703-324-5800.