By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 7, 2008
To all the Prince William County parents who bristle at the idea of trekking out to a former military barracks for a School Board meeting and standing in an overflow crowd, the complaining can end.
The new Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center, unveiled to the public Friday, will provide relief: The new School Board meeting room will have capacity for 300 seats.
There will be a screen behind the board members, so parents won't have to crane their necks to the side anymore to read all-important staff reports. And for board members, there will be state-of-the-art computer and video screens attached to the dais.
The $37.5 million, 150,000-square-foot complex, about five times the size of the previous administrative building at Independent Hill, will house about 500 employees. The previous building, along with some trailers, will continue holding 120 to 150 employees.
Ken Blackstone, a school system spokesman, said the School Board hopes to hold its first public meeting in the new building -- off Route 234, at 14715 Bristow Rd. near Manassas -- at the end of next month.
The building is named after Edward Kelly, the county's longest-running superintendent, who presided over the system for 18 years. He died in 2006.
"This is a building which all of Prince William citizens and residents can be proud. It's representative of us being the second-largest school district in Virginia and one of the top 50 in the country," Blackstone said.
But the complex, funded through bonds, was not universally embraced, particularly by some supervisors, who said they thought the system should have spent its money during lean budget times on educational services.
Schools officials, however, have countered that the financing of the building began before the county started experiencing large shortfalls. School officials have also said the building will help impress potential administrative and teaching recruits.
Features of the center include: a small museum representing the history of the school system in the main lobby; computer stations arrayed in front for people to fill out employment applications; a School Board meeting room that can be divided, like a hotel conference room, into four rooms, all with audio-visual capabilities; window-enclosed elevators; and 8,000 panes of glass.
And there will be an exercise room.
Asked whether he minds working up a sweat with colleagues, Blackstone demurred. He echoed a common suburban refrain: "My homeowners association has a small gym, so I'll use that," he said, laughing.