Fairfax School Board to vote on use of eminent domain to acquire office building

November 19, 2013

The Fairfax County School Board will vote next month on whether to use eminent domain to acquire a vacant office building in Falls Church and convert it into an elementary school to alleviate severe crowding in the area.

If approved Dec. 5, the School Board’s use of eminent domain — a power guaranteed to the board by the Virginia Constitution — would probably mark the first time in decades that the board used the controversial legal action to acquire local property.

The site, at 6245 Leesburg Pike near the Seven Corners shopping center, is a foreclosed five-story brick commercial office building that has been vacant since 2012. The 3.4-acre property “would be retrofitted and converted to a vertical design school in order to provide relief for the severely over-crowded Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts & Sciences,” according to school documents.

In mid-October, school facilities officials visited the building to conduct tests and inspections. The 99,000-square-foot building would provide ample space for a new school, and “while some remedial work would be required, conversion of the office building to an elementary school building is feasible,” according to the school documents.

Bailey’s Elementary began the year with 1,450 students and the school building 30 percent over capacity. To accommodate surging growth, the administration brought in 19 mobile trailers and carted away books from the library to add desks.

School officials predict that the number of school-aged children will continue to rise, and project that the school may enroll 1,600 students within four years.

The office building will most likely host a second campus for Bailey’s Elementary. But to do so, the School Board may have to redraw boundary lines because the office building sits just beyond Bailey’s area.

The School Board has been negotiating with the office building’s owners since the summer to purchase the property. But the talks have been unsuccessful, leading the board to move forward with plans to use eminent domain.

The School Board will host a public hearing on the proposal at Luther Jackson Middle School on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. and vote on the matter the same night.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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