School Board Adopts 5-Year Plan

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Fairfax County School Board has approved a plan to spend nearly $795 million over the next five years to build, renovate and maintain schools.

The capital improvement program approved last week includes $55.3 million to build three elementary schools, one each in the Lorton, Falls Church and Herndon areas. The school system also has earmarked about $580 million for renovations at 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and six high schools.

Several School Board members said that the plan funds necessary upgrades at many aging schools, but that there are many other needed renovations on the waiting list.

"This plan is a solid plan -- it meets a lot of needs -- but it certainly doesn't go the distance that we need to go," board member Kaye Kory (Mason) said.

The plan includes funding to complete renovations at South Lakes and Woodson high schools and to begin renovations at Edison and Marshall high schools. Other projects include additions to Hybla Valley Elementary School and Langley High School.

Two of the new elementary schools, in the Lorton and Herndon areas, are scheduled to open in fall 2009, and construction of the third is expected to be underway by then.

School officials said the district will be able to make some progress toward eliminating the backlog of renovations because of a recent $150 million boost in bond funding over a six-year period.

School spending on capital projects had been capped at $130 million a year, and with the cost of cement, steel and labor on the rise, officials worried some projects would be delayed.

Last year the school system turned over a dozen unneeded school-owned properties to the county after consolidating many school offices at the new Gatehouse administrative building in Merrifield. In return, the county agreed to increase bond funding for the school system's capital budget by $25 million a year -- to $155 million -- for six years.

Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for facilities and transportation services, said the capital plan reflects the fact that enrollment has leveled after years of rapid growth. During the 1990s, Fairfax schools grew by 2,000 to 3,000 students each year. Currently there are about 163,600 students and school officials said they expect to add only about 1,050 more by fall 2011.

"More and more of the focus is on renovation as we've gotten a fairly stable population," Tistadt said.

The five-year plan includes funding to begin work at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The school system plans to add a new wing and refurbish the existing building. Construction is expected to begin around the spring 2011, school officials said.

In addition, the plan includes funding to replace roofs and air conditioning and heating systems at several schools.

School officials set aside $1 million to plan for changes that may be needed to accommodate children of families who come to the area because of the Pentagon plan to shift thousands of jobs to Fort Belvoir, in the southeast part of the county, and the surrounding area. School officials said it is not yet clear how the base realignment and closure plan, known as BRAC, could impact schools.

"As of this moment we do not have any enrollment projections that are based on any changes in student populations resulting from BRAC," Tistadt recently told the board. "We don't have enough information yet to even hazard guesses at this point."

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