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Prince William County breaks ground on three schools

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010; PW01

Construction is beginning on three schools in western Prince William County, as officials work to relieve crowding in the growing school system.

In the past two months, crews have broken ground for T. Clay Wood Elementary School in Nokesville, a yet-unnamed elementary school on Linton Hall Road in Bristow and an unnamed middle school at Silver Lake in Haymarket. The two elementary schools, along with Patriot High School, which is already being built in Nokesville, are scheduled to open in fall 2011. The middle school is slated to open in 2012.

The last time a new school opened in the county was 2008, when Fannie W. Fitzgerald and Gravely elementary schools came on board. But officials say there's another growth spurt that sparked the construction boom. About 3,000 new students enrolled in the past school year, bringing the county's total to about 76,650. About 3,300 more are expected over the next two school years.

"We are definitely building at a rapid pace," said Lionel White, supervisor of planning for the school system, the state's second largest. "Given the state of the economy, a lot of school systems' growth is flat or they are losing schools. People, though, are coming here, buying homes. . . . We're a little atypical compared to the rest of the state."

Most of that growth is happening in the Linton Hall area and the western part of the county, where, Prince William School Board Vice Chairman Gilbert A. "Gil" Trenum Jr. (Brentsville) said, crowded classrooms and hallways are a top concern among parents. This year, Cedar Point, Bristow Run and Nokesville elementary schools were over their ideal capacity by 40 percent. Victory Elementary was 16 percent over capacity.

Although a boundary planning committee will decide which students will attend the new schools, officials said it is likely to draw from schools that are bursting at the seams. The new schools, officials said, will probably open near capacity.

T. Clay Wood will hold 850 students and is named after a lifelong Nokesville resident who spent decades serving the county, as a School Board member and county supervisor. T. Clay Wood also once owned the land at 10600 Kettle Run Rd. where the elementary school is being built.

The $18.5 million, roughly 105,000-square-foot facility will include a story room, activities room and "cafetorium" for physical education, lunch and performances. It is expected to be certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design status by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The $21.2 million Linton Hall Road school will be at 8613 Linton Hall Rd. It wasn't scheduled to open until 2012, but when construction bids for other schools came in lower than expected, school officials were able to move its opening day up. It, too, will hold 850 students and be comparable to T. Clay Wood in size and amenities.

The $26.4 million Silver Lake middle school will be a 136,600-square-foot facility with 52 classrooms, including rooms dedicated to the learning-disabled, the arts and life sciences. The school, at 15801 Tanning House Pl., will have four tennis courts, baseball, softball and soccer fields, and a field for both football and soccer surrounded by a track. The school is expected to hold about 1,100 students.

Dave Beavers, a supervisor in the school system's Office of Facility Services, said the buildings are funded with school construction bonds, which are paid off over 20 years. There will be additional costs, including staffing, that are budgeted in the school system's five-year budget plan.

And although budgets are tight, the construction was necessary, schools officials said.

"We have a responsibility to all citizens to provide schools where they are needed and when they are needed," Beavers said. "The west has been growing very rapidly . . . and the commitment by the School Board to build new schools to deal with it is clear."

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