The principal of Lorton Elementary School doesn't bat an eyelash when he tells a visitor, "We're the only school in (Fairfax) County with a full-scale evacuation plan in case there's a prison break."
Then again, Principal George Towery points out, Lorton is the only county school with goats on the playground.
"We like to think we're neat", he says with a grin.
With the exception of its proximity to Lorton Reformatory and the resulting need for emergency evacuation plans, Lorton Elementary is the envy of many Fairfax County schools. Among other things, it boasts a full-time resident artist and a growing enrollment, which now satnds at 538.
But this brick schoolhouse, in its picturesque country setting, is not without p problems. Within the next several years, the school may be closed to make room for a highway.
Unlike other Fairfax schools, which are subject to intense public scrutiny before they can be closed, the decision to shut down Lorton will be made by state highway officials.
Highway planners have been publicly toying with the notion of widening I-95, which passes within a few hundred yards of the school. The highway dapartment would be required to hold public hearings on the proposed road work, but if the department decided the school had to be closed the county would have to go along with the decision.
Some parents think closing the school would be unfair.
"The school is super; it would be a great loss to the community if the school was closed," says PTA President Trish David.
"Everyone I know who is involved in the school is against having the road widened if it means closing Lorton."
However grim the future looks now, the Lorton community is hopeful.
"We don't worry about it too much," Towery says. "We figure if they widen the road they'll move us somewhere, then build us a new school. We have faith they'll build the new school."
But as he wanders through the halls, patting children on the head and admiring their art work, Towery says: "It would be a shame. We have a sense of tradition here at Lorton. A lot of the kids -- well, their parents, sometimes their grandparents, went here."
The halls of Lorton Elementary are, in Towery's words, "a history lesson." With the help of a teacher's aide who is also an artist, students are painting great moments in history on the walls. Along one hallway, events such as the explorations of Lewis and Clark are illustrated at pint-sized eye level in vivid colors. In another corridor, famous characters in American history are being painted. Among the famous Virginians is Thomas Jefferson, whose portrait lacked only a few finishing touches.
"I'd be afraid to let them do that in a new school," Towery admits, chuckling.
The pride and joy of the Lorton school is not the murals but its program for the gifted and talented. The backbone of that program is the goat-raising project. Starting four years with two goats, students have raised seven kids.
"We decided we wanted to do something different so we got the goats," Towery says, leaning over a fence and scratching Poison Ivy under her bearded chin. The goat was so named because she was born in a poison-ivy patch near the school.
"Children love animals," Towery continues. "They love anything that's living. I get a real kick out of seeing these suburban kids, who might never even get near a farm animal otherwise, out here in the morning milking the goats.
"You know, we won the grand championship at the (Virginia) state fair this year with Sweet Pea (Poison Ivy's grandmother)."
Lowering his voice, he adds, "Some people weren't too happy about that. There were 250 other goats and most were raised by (professional) breeders."
On the far side of the Lorton School goat pen is I-95, and highway officials are vague about their plans for that stretch of the interstate. They say nothing will be definite for at least six months.
Still, some Lorton parents worry that they may have missed the Fairfax County boat.
The school systems' five year Capital Improvements Plan, a blueprint for school construction, is expected to be sent to the county board today without a contingency plan for Lorton.