Judy Gallimore's house is just feet from Mount Daniel Elementary School. For decades, she has heard the laughter and cries of other people's children sliding and shoving and spinning on the playground.
Her three kids never went there.
Instead, as children from the city of Falls Church walked uphill toward Mount Daniel or traveled in buses making the climb, Gallimore's trio headed the other way to Haycock Elementary School on the other side of Interstate 66.
That's because Mount Daniel, although it sits entirely on Fairfax County property, serves the city of Falls Church. Most residents -- including Gallimore -- knew that when they moved into the hundreds of colonial houses surrounding the school.
But now, as Mount Daniel prepares to add more classrooms, more parking spaces and a driveway for buses, residents say they are furious that the city is being allowed to encroach on a county neighborhood. They have signed petitions, packed City Council meetings and tied pink ribbons on the trees that might have to be cut to make way for the expansion.
And one question has underscored much of their protest.
"Why is that school in Fairfax County?" grumbled William Swartzel, a retired government worker who moved to the Falls Church section of the county in 1953. "I don't think Falls Church has got any business owning property in Fairfax County. We ought to have Fairfax get rid of this school and turn this into a residential area. We'd get more money out of it."
Tensions between cities and the counties that form doughnuts around them are a fact of life in Virginia, according to government experts.
"Virginia's independent city system is unique among the 50 states," said Ted McCormack, associate director for the Commission on Local Government, a state agency in Richmond. "The independent city system has assets and liabilities. It does tend to create conflicts over land use and things like that."
Mount Daniel, opened in 1952, is surrounded on all sides by residential neighborhoods in Fairfax County, and its land, while technically in the county, is owned by the city and its school system. It houses about 260 students in preschool through second grade, but school officials say enrollment has outpaced the school's capacity.
The 1,800-student city system has grown 50 percent in the past decade, faster than the school systems in neighboring Arlington and Fairfax counties. In November, Falls Church voters passed a $25 million bond referendum to build a new middle school and improve Mount Daniel. In addition to Mount Daniel, the city's middle school and high school are on county property.
"The land for schools or anything now is very scarce," said Kieran Sharpe, a Falls Church School Board member. "We've been neighbors a long time now, and we anticipate that continuing."
Neighbors of Mount Daniel say they heard nothing about the plans to renovate the elementary school until last month, when city officials contacted them. Since then, Gallimore's dining room table has been stacked with piles of drawings of the expansion, speeches she has delivered at public meetings and letters to politicians and media.
Her screened sun porch overlooks a playground that might be razed for the bus lane and four additional classrooms. She lives on Oak Street, the road buses and parents use to pick up and drop off their children.
"We don't know what's going on," said Gallimore, a retired Alexandria city employee. "I don't see how the neighborhood can handle this much building. Look around. This should not have a huge industrial school next to it."
She gestured toward a canopy of trees covering a walkway behind the school's playground. Residents use it to get to the West Falls Church Metro station and children to get to a swim club behind the school. Under city plans, the area off Highland Avenue would be widened to make a driveway for buses. The potential loss of the wooded trail has upset even some Falls Church residents.
"This generation of kids doesn't have a creek or anything to play in," said Ingrid Schulze, a mother of two children who attended Mount Daniel. "It's just so sad how every last little bit of green space is being nibbled away. Turning this little forest remnant into a prison yard isn't viable. That's what it's going to look like with fences and paved paths."
City and county officials have assured constituents that they are trying to work out a compromise. Sharpe said the School Board plans to meet Tuesday to review other design plans. He reminded county residents that they also benefit from the use of city facilities.
"There's been a really long relationship between the city and county," he said. "We have kids from Fairfax County play on city recreational leagues and use city playgrounds. We want sustained relations with the county."
Fairfax Supervisor Joan M. DuBois (R-Dranesville) said the school's final proposal will be subject to county planning and zoning regulations. But she warned her constituents that there are some things they can't change.
"You can get upset about many things," DuBois said. "You can get upset about the impact that the school has on you. But they own the property. The school was there before a lot of the houses were there. The bottom line is that the school is there, and it is going to be there."