The wooded acres near Shirley Gate and Braddock roads in central Fairfax County are already populated with a diverse mixture of religious institutions: a mosque and Pentecostal and Korean churches.
Sometime in the next two years, another religious facility will arrive: Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia.
Now crammed into classrooms in two Annandale locations, Gesher -- the only Jewish day school in Northern Virginia -- purchased 28 acres on the west side of Shirley Gate earlier this year for $1.25 million. School officials got approval from the county to build a $12 million campus for 350 students, which is almost double the current enrollment. Construction could be done by 2004.
"It's fast, it's ambitious," said Deborah Charnoff, project manager. "We don't know if we're going to make it, but that's what we're trying for."
The 28 acres will, officials hope, be the final destination for the 21-year-old school, which moved from an Alexandria synagogue to the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Annandale in 1994 after it outgrew the Alexandria site. It later split into two campuses when it added a middle school to what had been an institution for kindergarten through sixth grade.
The growing school is a testament to the burgeoning Jewish population in Northern Virginia.
Attracted by high-tech jobs and more-affordable housing than the close-in suburbs can offer, Jewish families are flocking to western Fairfax and more distant suburbs. In the last 25 years, the number of synagogues has climbed to 20 from only a half-dozen in the 1970s.
"This is a growing, vibrant, active Jewish community," said Dottie Bennett, a member of the school's advisory board.
Although many synagogues offer Jewish nursery schools and Hebrew schools to their members, Gesher is still the only facility in Northern Virginia offering children a full immersion into the religion, history and language of Judaism -- "a sense of where we came from and where we are today," according to Rabbi Michele Sullum, the school's director of Judaic studies -- along with a private school education. By contrast, there are at least a half-dozen Jewish day schools in the Maryland suburbs.
A meeting is scheduled tonight for families whose children attend Gesher and for other members of the Jewish community who want to hear more about the new facility. The school also plans to hold a community meeting for people who live near the new site, but no date has been set.
The new school is still being designed, but initial plans call for a 47,500-square-foot facility with almost two dozen classrooms, a 120-seat cafeteria, a kosher kitchen, an auditorium, a 1,800-square-foot library and a Beit Midrash -- the spiritual heart of the institution, which holds its sacred texts and is used for prayer and study -- large enough to hold 160 people. Outside, a full-size soccer field, football field and baseball diamond are planned.
The school would, its leaders said, be a vast improvement over the current quarters for its 183 students.
The classrooms for the school's third through eighth grades, in the rear and bottom floor of the Jewish Community Center, are sunny and modern. But the tiny library is crammed with books and computers, and classrooms are packed with desks, kids and backpacks. The Beit Midrash also does duty as a school assembly room and study hall. Since there is no cafeteria, the children eat lunch in their classrooms.
The 90 younger students -- the kindergartners, first- and second-graders -- attend school in classrooms at Congregation Ahavat Israel, a nearby Orthodox synagogue, but are bused back to the Jewish Community Center for physical education.
The children get an excellent education, spending about 40 percent of their time in Judaic studies and the rest in general studies, Sullum said. Still, "We need a facility to take it to the next level."