Fairfax School Superintendent William J. Burkholder has put off School Board action on a proposal to dispose of a vacant school site in Dunn Loring.
The School Board was slated to vote tonight on the controversial plan to dispose of the vacant Dunn Loring Elementary School site on Gallows Road. The school staff had recommended that the site be sold and that the money be used as partial funding to buy a warehouse in Springfield. The rest of the funds for the warehouse would come from the sale of the school bonds up for referendum Nov. 6.
But at a public hearing before the board two weeks ago, angry neighbors denounced the sale as bad public policy, and Burkholder removed the item from this week's agenda. "I felt we needed more time to assess some of the testimony that was given," Burkholder said of his decision. "I wasn't satisfied we were ready to make a final recommendation to the board ."
School officials say they have tried in vain to rent the school, closed eight years ago after enrollment had declined to fewer than 200 pupils. Since then the building has been used for storage, but Edward Moore, coordinator of school site acquisition and development, said the property is costing about $35,000 a year to maintain.
Moore said the 10-acre site is one of a number of properties the staff is eyeing for possible disposal.
On Moore's list, he said, is a vacant parcel beside the Pine Wood Lake town house community in South Alexandria and a 50-acre site beside the Claremont Woods community in Franconia. Many Dunn Loring residents say the red-brick schoolhouse, built in 1939, is the hub of their community and should not be sold for private use unless it is certain that there is no need for its public use.
"We just think the School Board is acting precipitously," said G. Ray Worley, a Dunn Loring native who is president ot the Dunn Loring Improvement Association. Worley, who is a real estate agent, points to burgeoning development in and around this community tucked between Tysons Corner and Rte. 66 as reasons for the county to hold onto the property. Completion of the Dunn Loring Metro Station could spur even more housing starts in the area, he said.
"We are experiencing what is called 'infill,' " he said, "where parcels held in larger acreage are being developed into 42 homes here, 40 homes there, 13 homes there . . . . We say, 'What's the hurry?' "
County planners say their five-year projections indicate that pupils added by area growth can be accommodated at two nearby elementary schools, Freedom Hill at Tysons Corner and Stenwood Elementary at Rte. 66 and Gallows Road. When Dunn Loring Elementary was closed, the pupil population was split between these two schools.
Planners said that at the direction of Burkholder, this week they were developing projections beyond five years.
Dunn Loring area residents are also concerned about how the property will be used if it is sold, something school officials say they cannot control.
The School Board declares the property available and selects the developer, contingent upon the ability to get approval from county zoning authorities for what the developer wants to do with it, Moore said.
"The use of the property does not come into play in the School Board's decision," said Moore. "That is up to the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Board of Supervisors," he said.
But Dunn Loring residents contend that the procedure permits the School Board very early in the process to select one developer over another without holding a public hearing. They predict it will be hard to block something already approved by the School Board when it reaches planning and zoning agencies and the county board, where public hearings would be held.
"And what may be in the best interest of the school finances may not be in the best interest of the community," said Worley.