The Falls Church City Council voted unanimously Monday night to fund a $30,000 study by an architectural consulting firm to determine whether the site of the former Whittier School in southeastern Falls Church could adequately accommodate a future high school.
The study, which will be done by the Washington firm of Cannon/Faulkner, will also provide information about the current site of the city's George Mason Junior-Senior High School to determine how best the facility could be redesigned or renovated if the school does not relocate.
According to Falls Church School Superintendent Warren Pace, the study grew out of concern among school officials that the location of George Mason is particularly vulnerable to development and traffic congestion. The school has close to 650 students in grades six through 12.
Located in Fairfax County just beyond the Falls Church border, the 40-acre school property is bordered by Leesburg Pike, Rte. 66 and Haycock Road. The West Falls Church Metro station sits behind the property on Rte. 66.
Falls Church School Board member Robert Turner said the problem could grow more acute in the near future because of the opening of the Metro station next summer and future plans to widen both Haycock Road and Broad Street.
"You look at the impact of all these activities and it's going to generate traffic that will not necessarily be conducive to maintaining an educational facility," said Turner. "You're looking at taking an educational facility and hemming it in."
Pace said the School Board began thinking about the possibility of relocating the city's high school to the Whittier site last fall after the former intermediate school was closed by the Fairfax County School Board a year ago.
That board is scheduled to hold a public hearing to determine whether to declare the building and grounds surplus. The matter will then be sent to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, which will ultimately decide whether or not to put the property up for sale.
School officials agree that the location of the Whittier site in the more residential area of Hillwood Avenue and South Cherry Street makes it a more appropriate spot for a school. But they also agree that to design a large enough facility on the 18-acre property will call for some creative thinking.
"It will take a very creative approach on the part of the architect," said Pace, who added that the School Board would eventually be looking for a plan that would provide a large enough school building for 1,000 students, good athletic facilities and adequate parking.
City Council members agreed Monday night that the study is a significant one.
"This is an incredibly important undertaking," said City Council member W. John Cameron. "It is of dire consequence to the city. It is a very ambitious project for that kind of money."
Turner stressed that the study was only "the first step" in an effort that could result in the relocation of the city's junior and senior high schools. Should the project go forward, he estimated it might take six to eight years.
Pace said it is entirely possible that the move will not occur and the School Board will use the information to redesign or renovate the current facility. He said the study is expected to be completed by late November.