This is the second in a series exploring how a school starts from scratch.
Before she had even moved into the principal's office at the new Glenkirk Elementary School, two polite solicitors visited Lisa Gilkerson seeking something very valuable.
They were pastors from Grace Church of Gainesville, and they wanted to rent rooms at Glenkirk for Sunday worship services. Such requests are routine from churches that don't have buildings, but Gilkerson did not expect the issue to surface so early and with such intensity.
"I had five or six requests from churches in February," Gilkerson said, explaining that Grace Church called first and therefore was granted the deal. "I don't know that I was expecting as many calls as I got. But we're a community school. I want the schools to be used for Little League, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. I think that's what a school is about. It's a sense of place that we all share in."
As principal of one of two new schools in Prince William County, Gilkerson has spent the run-up to Glenkirk's opening day next month fixing numerous last-minute details related to the education of about 850 students. She has been hiring and training teachers, meeting parents and even unloading huge printers.
But she also has spent time preparing the school for its wider audience: Gainesville and its Scout troops, homeowners associations and club groups that want to borrow the school on weekends or after school.
A vast majority, if not all, of Prince William's 82 schools allow community groups to rent space, said Don Mercer, the school system's director of risk management. Dozens of schools, he said, allow churches to use their classrooms, gyms and cafeterias for a fee.
The school system received about $500,000 last year from the arrangements, Mercer said, most of which was spent to pay custodians to open and monitor the buildings and to cover utility fees. Any profits financed playground improvements or equipment, he said.
Scoping out Glenkirk recently, Grace Church pastors Rod Fultz and Corey Shepherd made their motivation clear to Gilkerson during a meeting in her office. They explained that Battlefield High School, where they meet now, is getting too cramped for their growing congregation of 150. They need bigger rooms for Bible study and a bigger auditorium.
"Where are all the chairs stored?" Fultz asked while Shepherd scrutinized the schematics of the building. "Are there adult chairs? What about the library? Can we use that?"
After Gilkerson agreed, Fultz said: "We're so grateful."
"Well, as long as you keep your end of it," Gilkerson said, smiling, referring to strict orders not to make messes and to put items back where they came from.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is eating in here," she said later while showing them the library.
Aside from getting more space at a lower price than they are paying at the high school, Fultz and Shepherd said they like Glenkirk because they want to tap into the new neighborhoods and cultivate a bigger congregation. They want to save money so that in three to five years, they can construct a building on 12 acres that the church owns nearby on Route 15.
Because gyms at high schools cost $25 per hour to rent -- as opposed to $15 at elementary schools -- the pastors expect to save about $5,000 a year.
They hope to begin worshiping at Glenkirk by October.
"Does this get into a mix of church and state?" Gilkerson asked. "It's not that we're hosting them. They're paying to use the facility. We're just giving them the space when it's not in use by the school."
As their tour was wrapping up, the pastors were surveying the school's gymnasium -- which also serves as an auditorium -- where they would hold services. They seemed enthralled by all the space as they paced around the stage, noting how the ceiling was much higher than in their space at Battlefield and how it still felt more intimate.
Fultz stood at the podium, fidgeting with its placement and gazing proudly across the empty room.