School Consolidation Shelved

School Consolidation Shelved

Elementary schools to remain in renovation queue.

A plan that would have closed Freedom Hill Elementary and moved its students to Vienna Elementary has been effectively killed.

"I’m pleased with the way it turned out," said Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman. "It seemed a sort of radical thing to do."

"I’m not supportive of the consolidation," said School Board President Phil Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). Freedom Hill is located in the Providence District of Fairfax County, off Old Courthouse Road, near Tysons Corner.

"There were too many complications to move forward," said School Board Member Stu Gibson (Hunter Mill). Vienna Elementary is in the Hunter Mill District.

In stating his opposition to the plan, Niedzielski-Eichner cited the potential redevelopment of Tysons Corner and the increased student enrollment it could bring. Even though the high-rise dwellings likely to be built in the area typically yield few new students, the sheer number of new residential units could create a surge in student population. "That’s a major consideration," he said. Freedom Hill is one of the closest elementary schools to the Tysons Corner urban center.

Gibson noted the potential for an increased amount of traffic, both buses and cars, through the Town of Vienna as a major problem.

The proposal will not likely progress any further, unless Gibson and Niedzielski-Eichner's colleagues on the School Board feel very strongly about going forward with the idea, Niedzielski-Eichner said.

Both schools are on the queue for renovations in the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan. Freedom Hill’s design study has been funded, but not its actual construction, which is set to begin in 2008. Vienna has nothing yet funded, but has planning scheduled to begin in 2008.

Freedom Hill Elementary was opened in 1949, it has a capacity of 516 students, a current enrollment of 481 students and a projected enrollment of 512 in 2009, according the Capital Improvement Plan.

The oldest part of the Vienna Elementary building was opened in 1923 and has had several additions made, up until 1963. The school has a capacity of 435 students, a current enrollment of 339 and a 2009 projected enrollment of 370, according to the Capital Improvement Plan.

INSTEAD OF remodeling either school, the proposal would have built an entirely new school on the site of Vienna Elementary. The historic, front portion of the school building would have been given to the Town of Vienna, said Gibson.

By building one new school instead of renovating the other two, the school system could save approximately $6 million, Gibson said. Additionally, the school system would gain playing fields from a reconfiguration of the site. A new school could possibly be built before the remodeling of the other two schools was complete, Gibson noted.

The Freedom Hill site would then likely have been declared surplus, Gibson said, but he pointed out that other options could have been discussed. Some details, like where the Vienna students would go during construction had yet to be settled before the plan was shelved, Gibson noted that it could have been possible to build the new school in a different location on the grounds, which would allow the continued use of Vienna Elementary during construction.

Maureen Alonso, president of Vienna Elementary’s PTA said that while she could see some benefits to increased enrollment, such as a more vigorous program of "specials" such as art and music, she prefers keeping Vienna the way it is. "As a parent, one of the things I value at Vienna Elementary School, in addition to the staff, is the size," she said.