Prince William County officials and politicians will meet a week from tonight with Gar-Field Senior High School students, parents and administrators to discuss concerns about safety and security brought on by the construction of four malls within one mile of the school.
The meeting was called by "The Tribe," Gar-Field's parent group, when President Patricia Cosand became alarmed at the fears students, parents and staff had expressed regarding increased traffic and "undesirable persons" that might be attracted to malls near the school, particularly Potomac Mills, billed as the largest factory outlet mall in the country.
"There is talk of everything from barbed wire fences to guards to police dogs to protect the school ," Cosand said.
"Some people are calling Gar-Field Prince William's first inner-city school. Nobody knows what's true and what's a rumor any more; we hope this meeting will get at the truth and dispel the rumors."
Lacey Compton, an attorney for Western Development, which is building Potomac Mills, said he plans to attend the meeting.
Others Cosand has invited include the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, School Superintendent Richard Johnson, Gar-Field Principal Zuill Bailey and members of his school staff, county planner Roger Snyder, state transportation engineer David Ogel and representatives from the police department and fire and rescue squads, as well as the county's state legislative delegation. Most have accepted, she said.
Several "neighbors of the school," including representatives of a Division of Motor Vehicles local office, two churches and a local newspaper, also will attend, Cosand said.
The two biggest concerns facing the Gar-Field community, according to school officials, are security and traffic. When Potomac Mills opens today, it alone is expected to generate 30,000 cars a day on Smoketown Road, a two-lane highway into which school traffic empties every day. There is no traffic light at the school's driveway on Smoketown.
In addition, school officials said, another mall is being built across the street from Potomac Mills and two more are scheduled for construction about a mile down Smoketown Road.
According to Ogel, the widening of Smoketown Road to six lanes is a high priority in the state's six-year road plan. Traffic signals will be installed at several places on Smoketown Road as construction of the malls is completed.
"We've had no requests for traffic signals there now from school officials," Ogel said. "We'd have to study the traffic the school generates to see if a light is necessary. But I'm convinced that eventually there will be a traffic signal at every crossover on Smoketown Road from Davis Ford Road to Rte. 1.
According to Neabsco Supervisor John Jenkins, whose district contains Gar-Field Senior High School, said that a blinking yellow light is slated to be installed on Smoketown within the school district "momentarily." Traffic will be expected to slow to 25 mph in that area, he said.
Said Kathy M"phy, a Gar-Field senior, "After the school buses leave, it takes me 20 minutes to get onto Smoketown now. I can't imagine what0 9 9 % m glad I won't be going to Gar-Field next year."
As captain of the drill team flag corps, Murphy said, she is often hoarse at the end of a drill practice from shouting above traffic and construction noise. "I feel sorry for next year's captain," she said.
Murphy and another senior, Mark Fayak, agreed that fears about security and rumors about how the school will deal with it are running rampant on the Gar-Field campus.
"We don't know what kind of people the malls will attract," Murphy said, "but we've heard they might put a fence around the school. The kids don't want that; we feel trapped enough. They're already calling this "The Gar-Field Minimum Security Prison." Her mother will attend tonight's meeting, Murphy said.
Said Fayak, "The students will feel trapped. They are afraid of what the school will look like when it's all fenced in."
A fence on at least three sides of the school is a strong possibility, said Neabsco School Board member Regis Lacy. "With the rapid growth in that area it's better to take precautionary actions now. But there is no doubt that a fence will detract from the school."
No security recommendations have been made to the School Board yet, he said, "We're going to look at several options and discuss their feasibility before we take action." He declined to mention what those options are.
Thomas Engley, assistant principal at Lee High School in Fairfax County, has promised to attend, Cosand said, because administrators there have dealt with similar problems since a mall opened across the street.
"I know we are on a reservation here," Cosand said of Gar-Field, whose symbol is the profile of an American Indian.