The Fairfax County School Board is considering selling 35.5 wooded acres of school-owned land in the Springfield area to a housing developer and using the estimated $12 million in revenue toward the construction of a new elementary school.
School officials said the infusion of cash would mean a planned elementary school near the county Government Center would open in 2006, three years ahead of schedule and at a savings of $1.5 million. In turn, construction of a second elementary school and planned renovations at several other schools would speed up, a prospect that has been applauded by many parents.
The plan has been criticized by county Park Authority officials, who say the land, which is adjacent to the South Run RECenter, should become permanent parkland instead of a housing development. And neighbors who live near the site have complained that the School Board has kept them in the dark about a plan that they worry could mean more neighbors and even more traffic on already clogged roads.
But school officials said an unusual agreement under which the board acquired the land bars it from selling the site to the Park Authority or nearly any other buyer. When the parcel was offered to the schools in 1967, the deal spelled out that the original owner could reclaim the land if it were used for anything other than a secondary school.
Because the proposed buyer, Van Metre Communities Inc., is the successor to the original owner, it is the only entity that can legally buy the site, school officials said.
School Board Chairman Kathy L. Smith (Sully) stressed that the board has not yet made a decision on the future of the property but said it makes sense to consider selling. She said there are some indications that a new school will not be needed at that location in part because the new south county high school will be only a few miles away. The south county school, which has not been named yet, is scheduled to open next September.
"I'm still looking at enrollment figures, and I'm sure everyone will have some questions," Smith said. "But if this is definitely a property that we're not going to need to build a school on, then we want to use it in a way that would benefit students."
The land, known as the Pohick site, is a 35.5-acre parcel in the southern part of the county bordered by Fairfax County Parkway to the north and Huntsman Boulevard to the east. Under current zoning, about 100 single-family homes can be built there.
Some School Board members said the sale would be a boon to a system that is constantly struggling to find funding to build new schools and upgrade aging buildings. In most cases, voters must approve bond sales to pay for such projects.
If the sale goes through, a planned elementary school in the Hunter Mill District also would be built earlier than planned, officials said. Planned renovations at Woodson High School, Glasgow Middle School and 10 elementary schools would be completed ahead of schedule.
"The positive impact we can have across the entire county . . . is enormous," said School Board member Stephen M. Hunt (At Large).
The future of the lot came into question in April when Van Metre approached school officials and offered to purchase the land. Two independent appraisals were conducted, and officials said they agreed the site would be sold for no less than $11.7 million.
The School Board is expected to vote on the sale in October. The county Board of Supervisors, which would also have to approve the sale, will hold a public hearing on the issue Oct. 18.