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Schools Offices Under One Roof

(Mark Gail - Twp)

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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fairfax County public schools recently opened a new administrative office building in Merrifield to house more than 600 employees who now work in several buildings around the county.

School officials said that centralizing operations at 8115 Gatehouse Rd. will streamline services and cut costs. The size of administrative and janitorial staffs will be reduced, and there will no longer be a need for travel among office buildings. School and county staff members said the plan, which includes constructing a second office building on the site, would save about $47 million over 30 years.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale and most other employees at the Burkholder Center in Fairfax City, which served as the central office building, are moving to the Gatehouse building this week. Student disciplinary hearings and School Board work sessions will be held there, but regular board meetings will remain at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

Last week, moving boxes were stacked in offices and hallways at the Burkholder Center, and employees packed files and supplies with roll after roll of pink bubble wrap. Dale said that even as the packing was in full swing, he interviewed finalists for a new assistant superintendent position.

"We've had to say 'We're sorry this doesn't look like a professional office. It won't always be like this,' " Dale said.

In coming weeks, departments now scattered around the county -- including the Office of Student Services housed in the Devonshire Center in Falls Church, and the Office of Special Education, now in the Belle Willard building in Fairfax City -- will move to the new building. Workers from four school-owned buildings and four offices leased by the schools will be relocated to the Gatehouse Road building.

The School Board bought the building and an adjacent, vacant 3.1-acre parcel for $45.8 million, a project funded through bonds issued by the county's Economic Development Authority. The county also paid $13.5 million for improvements to the building and for furniture and other equipment, and $3.5 million in financing costs. School officials said the debt is being paid with money that previously was used to lease office space, from savings in the travel budget and from money that would have gone to renovate and maintain the existing administration buildings, many of them decades old.

School officials also said they will be able to eliminate 40 administrative, clerical and maintenance positions over the next five years because fewer workers will be needed. They said no workers will be laid off but that some positions will not be filled after workers retire or resign.

Plans for the second building have not yet been approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Most properties left vacant after the consolidation will be turned over to the county and could be sold, used by other county agencies or become public parks. In return, the Board of Supervisors would be likely to increase the school system's capital budget by several million dollars for several years to offset rising construction costs, School Board members said. County and school officials are still working out the details of the transfer.

School officials said once the second building has been added -- at an estimated cost of $43.9 million -- and consolidation has been completed, about 1,300 school system employees will work at the complex.

Kitty Porterfield, a schools spokeswoman, said one interesting part of the move is that it has offered a glimpse into the district's history.

Employees preparing for the move found boxes of old documents, including programs from school groundbreakings in the 1950s and stacks of yellowed newspaper clippings. Porterfield said the district was exploring ways to preserve the items.


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