Voters To Decide On School Construction

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Fairfax County School Board has decided to ask voters to support a $365.2 million bond measure that would pay for two new schools while focusing largely on renovations and additions to buildings.

The bond question, which will be on the ballot Nov. 6, also reflects some of the board's educational priorities. About $4 million would go toward adding space at elementary schools to expand full-day kindergarten, and $6 million to fund "high schools of the future," expanding career and technical programs such as culinary arts, nursing and automotive technology.

The referendum reflects the changing dynamics of a school system in which the student population has leveled off in recent years after more than a decade of dramatic growth. School officials had focused on building classrooms to ensure a seat for every child but can now concentrate more on refining existing schools and programs.

"If you look at the point that we are at now in terms of building schools, compared to 10 years ago, it's vastly different. We're pretty much built out as a county," said School Board member Kaye Kory (Mason). "I like to think because of the slowing of the growth in population, we're able to take a deep breath, stand back and evaluate.

"High schools of the future is one example," Kory added. "We'll be able to offer more resources to more students."

If the bond is approved, $22 million will go for a new elementary school in Laurel Hill in the southern part of the county, where the population is still growing. That school is planned to open in 2009.

The measure also calls for $23 million to build an elementary school at the site of the Lacey Instructional Center in Annandale. The center, which houses administrators and employees from the instructional services department, was damaged in a February fire. Those employees eventually will move to a new school administration complex in Merrifield.

The bond, which must be approved by the county supervisors, would also include about $150 million for renovations at Longfellow Middle School and six elementary schools. An additional $10 million would be used to plan renovations at other schools, including $5 million for changes at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the system's elite magnet school.

About $6 million would go to the high schools of the future. Several Fairfax County high schools have academy programs that offer technical and other career-oriented classes in subjects such as construction technologies, network administration and hospitality management, but not all students have time in their schedules to travel to a building where a class of their choice is offered. School officials plan to increase the number of courses and locations so more students will have easy access to a varied curriculum.

"There's a tremendous need to expand our higher-level career and technical education classes," said School Board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville). "We have a lot of courses that many more kids would like to take; we just can't get them from here to there."

Some previously approved projects also are addressed in the bond referendum. Rising costs, such as for steel and fuel, have exceeded construction estimates. The referendum includes $38 million to pay for higher-than-expected bills on 15 previously approved projects, including an addition at Langley High School and renovations to South Lakes and Edison high schools.

The referendum also includes $50 million to build a facility in Newington to service school buses. The school system is permitted to spend $155 million each year on capital projects. The bus facility would not count toward that limit because it is a joint venture between the school system and county government.

The bond question doesn't include funding for new classrooms that school officials say will be needed as a result of the Pentagon's plan to move 22,000 workers to Fort Belvoir by 2011. The Army recently estimated that 3,200 schoolchildren will move to southern Fairfax County as a result.

School officials said that if the estimate is correct, two more elementary schools will be needed to handle incoming students. The system also will need more middle school space, which could come from a new building, an addition to a school or a change in attendance boundary lines. School and county officials say the construction will cost about $77 million, and they are asking the federal government to help pay for it.

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