With severe crowding at Bailey’s Elementary, Fairfax officials weigh acquiring 2nd building

September 12, 2013

Top leaders of the Fairfax County school system met with parents and community members at Bailey’s Elementary School on Wednesday night to outline plans to alleviate severe crowding issues at the school.

In front of an audience packed into the lunchroom, school officials said the possibilities included the purchase or the use of eminent domain to acquire a vacant and foreclosed commercial office building and convert it into a school.

Superintendent Karen Garza, ranking administration officials and school board members were detailing the options for the capacity woes at Bailey’s in a public forum for the first time.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get a solution sooner than later,” Garza said at the meeting. “We’re bursting at the seams here.”

Enrollment this year is projected to reach 1,450 at Bailey’s, where 19 trailers sit behind the main building, covering old hopscotch courts to accommodate the surge in growth. This fall, books were carted away from the school’s library to make room for desks.

School officials said their goal is to find a solution to the crowding by next school year.

“The thing about this community is that they are in crisis,” said board member Sandy Evans, whose Mason district includes Bailey’s.

Dan Aminoff, the father of a fourth grader and a second grader at Bailey’s, said that he was happy to hear the schools’ proposals.

“Something needs to be done, and sooner rather than later,” said Aminoff, noting that using eminent domain to acquire property may be necessary to address the problem. “The crisis here is such that it may take that kind of action.”

Dan Parris, the former assistant superintendent for the cluster of schools that includes Bailey’s, gave a detailed presentation concerning the problems at the school.

He said that the area around the school will likely experience significant growth in the coming years and that projections placed Bailey’s enrollment around 1,600 students by 2017. The school is currently about 300 students over capacity.

“If this was an easy thing to solve, we would have done it a long time ago,” Parris said.

Parris said that among the options is a five-story commercial office building located at 6245 Leesburg Pike. The building would likely serve as a satellite campus for Bailey’s. One option would be to split the students by grade between the two locations.

Parris said such a commercial site might be compelling, noting that the property has ample parking and plenty of available space for playgrounds, a turf field and an air-inflated structure that could serve as a gymnasium.

Garza said the administration and school board had “taken an aggressive stance” during talks to acquire the building, noting that space in Fairfax County is limited.

“I think we have an opportunity to do very innovative things in regard to school construction and school design,” Garza said. “The old standard for about 20 acres and sprawling elementaries won’t be viable for us in the future.”

Parris said that there was a sense of urgency among board members to act fast. He said that using “statutory authority,” which includes the use of eminent domain, is being closely considered by the board.

But board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said she disapproved of such a plan.

“It is morally repugnant that elected representatives of the Fairfax County School Board should seek to seize personal property of the citizens they represent through eminent domain, citizens who pay taxes on that property which becomes — through appropriation by the Board of Supervisors — a significant majority of our budget,” Schultz said. She said the school board should not infringe upon the “personal property rights of the very citizens we are elected to represent and serve,” just because previous school officials did not plan for growth in the Bailey’s area.

Parris acknowledged that the Bailey’s community had heard talk of solutions before. In recent years, plans to renovate a nearby library and refit county buildings for school use have failed.

“This feels different,” Parris said. “The days of kicking this can down the road? Those days are done.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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