Principal Patricia D. McGinley looks outside her office window at Cool Spring Elementary School in Leesburg and sees her future: four town houses sprouting out of the ground. Behind them, a crop of single-family homes is under construction.
What represents progress and prosperity to so many signals trouble for McGinley, because new houses mean more children. They already have filled up every classroom at Cool Spring, which opened in 1989.
One of the music rooms has been converted into a first-grade classroom. Offices for the school's counselor and the physical education teachers are former storage closets. The speech therapist operates out of what used to be the main office conference room.
In response, school officials recently announced that they will cap enrollment at the school for the next two years to ease growing concerns about crowding.
"There is no easy answer," McGinley said. "It's just going to be painful for a while."
Any new students in the Cool Spring boundary will be routed to nearby campuses, including Dominion Trail, Ball's Bluff and Leesburg elementary schools. Younger siblings of current Cool Spring students are exempted from the rule and will be able to attend the school on Tavistock Drive.
School officials expect to lift the 700-student cap in August 2002, when a new elementary school in Leesburg is scheduled to open.
The action comes at a time when the school's enrollment of about 725 is fast approaching the building's capacity of 760. The student population is bursting at the lowest grades, McGinley said, with seven first-grade classes and six second-grade classes.
"We're okay for this year, but the projection is for 100 more [students], and we just don't have the room," she said.
There is a lot of that going around. Harper Park Middle School, which opened in September, already is at capacity, and next year's eighth-graders will attend classes at the new Stone Bridge High School, which will open in August without a senior class. The solution to Harper Park's crowding is temporary until a new middle school opens the next year.
Concern at Cool Spring has been brewing for several months among parents, who have lobbied school officials to find a solution other than trailers. As many as four temporary classrooms were scheduled to cover the blacktop play areas next year.
"That would have been horrendous," said David Shaffer, whose son is a first-grader at Cool Spring. He added that "given the cap or the trailers, the cap is better--but it's not the best solution."
Many of Cool Spring's students come from three neighborhoods, Tavistock Farms, Beauregard Estates and Kincaid Forest, which surround the campus. Some parents said capping enrollment scatters the students among several different schools and ruins the neighborhood feel of Cool Spring.
"It obliterates it," said Shaffer, who moved to Beauregard Estates from Philomont in 1995.
Parents, however, are divided on the best solution.
Jeanne Nawojchik, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at Cool Spring, said capping enrollment is the best answer.
"The schools are not very far apart," said Nawojchik, a 15-year resident of Leesburg. "It's not like they're busing kids from far away."
And another possible solution, changing the school's boundaries, also would lessen Cool Spring's neighborhood feel, she said.
Patrick F. Chorpenning Jr. (Mercer), who represents the Cool Spring community on the School Board, said it would be wrong to change boundaries because they may have to be rewritten again when the new Leesburg elementary school opens in 2 1/2 years. He also rejected the idea of trailers, which leaves the enrollment cap as the only viable answer to crowding.
The cap "appears fair, but I do have concerns," Chorpenning said. "I just want to make sure we don't split up families."
He and other school officials are expected to attend the school's PTA meeting Feb. 2 to discuss the enrollment cap plans.