The Loudoun County School Board has voted to acquire an 89-acre parcel north of Leesburg for a high school, through eminent domain if necessary. The land, near Ida Lee Park, is part of Dry Hollow Farm, which is owned by the O'Connor family.
Negotiations for the land have continued for months. Planning Director Sam C. Adamo said the school system was legally required to make one more "fair and bona fide" offer to the O'Connors. If they reject the offer or do not respond, last week's vote authorizes lawyers to file court documents to seize the property, with compensation.
Phone calls to the O'Connor family were not returned.
School Board members have been hinting since the summer that they might use their right to acquire private land for schools in the Leesburg area. They have blamed rising land prices and a lack of sites proffered by developers for their difficulty in finding places to build schools for thousands of new students who arrive each year.
The system has been searching for a site for a Leesburg elementary school scheduled to open next fall. Plans call for another new elementary school in or around the town to open in 2007. The Leesburg high school that would be built on the O'Connor land is scheduled to open in 2008.
The school system has not been alone in eyeing the prime land. The private Loudoun Country Day School had been in talks to buy 241 acres from the O'Connors that include the 89.38 acres the school system wants.
Headmaster Randall Hollister said the school's plan was to leave much of that land open, building a 50-acre campus for kindergarten through 12th grade on one part and a low-density development with upscale houses on another. The school has had to reconsider because of the public school system's plans, Hollister said, but he said he believes the new campus and development could still be on the O'Connors' land, south of the new public high school. Discussions continue, he said.
"This was a disappointment to us because we'd been working so hard on this original vision and had been at it for a number of years," he said. At the same time, he said, "I understand the situation the county is in. They're under enormous pressure to deliver schools to this county."
Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School and Smart's Mill Middle School were built on land that was once owned by the O'Connor family.
The School Board initiated proceedings to condemn land for those schools in 2001 but worked out a deal with the owners to buy a different parcel.