Loudoun County school officials have recommended to the School Board that it pursue a new, state-of-the-art career and technical academy for high school students on 101 acres in Ashburn owned by the county.
The School Board is preparing to suggest how it thinks Loudoun should use the land, which the county purchased from the Islamic Saudi Academy last year for $13.5 million.
The ISA decided to focus on expanding its Saudi-Embassy-run school in Fairfax County rather than build a 3,500-student campus in Loudoun. ISA officials said at the time they hoped the county would use the land for educational purposes.
After the school system finalizes its proposal, it will be presented to a national panel of land-use experts, who will be brought to Loudoun by the Urban Land Institute.
School administrators have suggested that 40 acres of the parcel be devoted to educational needs: half for an elementary school and half for a building to replace C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg.
The Monroe center houses vocational and technical classes for high school students from across the county who attend classes there on alternate days. Among its offerings are an auto mechanics program, culinary and cosmetology classes, welding and masonry courses, and programs in several computer fields. The building is 30 years old and has never been renovated, said Shirley Bazdar, director of career and technical education.
"It's very well preserved," she said. "However, we are growing out of that space and we are not using the space in the same way we did in 1977. The technology has changed."
School officials have been studying vocational and technical centers across the country in hopes of improving Loudoun's offerings, said Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction. She said they were especially excited by a facility in Grand Rapids, Mich., that looked less like a school and more like a mall -- with a restaurant for culinary students and a hair salon for cosmetology.
"For a concept, that's something we're working toward," she said. "Something open feeling, so as soon as you step in, it doesn't feel like classrooms."
New space would allow the district to double the school's 430-student enrollment and provide space for new programs, including emergency medical technician/firefighter courses and classes in hospitality services and aviation mechanics.
Robert F. DuPree Jr. (Dulles), chairman of the School Board's finance committee, said board members have expressed support for the idea and will probably vote on the recommendation at their meeting Tuesday.
"Monroe simply cannot be structurally modified to meet the needs," he said. "There seems to be strong support for this option."
The proposal for the technical center and the elementary school will be considered with other ideas for public and private uses for the land when the Urban Land Institute group convenes for five days of study, starting Oct. 17.
This is the first time the county has used the nonprofit planning institute to pool knowledge and suggest ways to use land to best serve residents.
"They're the best people out there to do this kind of process, where you want a SWAT team of experts to come in, who you couldn't find or afford otherwise," said Larry Rosenstrauch, the county's director of economic development.
The county will pay the Urban Land Institute $115,000 to conduct its study, he said. Most of the money will go to pay expenses for panelists. Leftover funds will go to the group's foundation as a donation. The panelists themselves will receive no pay for their time, and Rosenstrauch said they will be carefully screened to ensure that none has a conflict of interest.
"They're no-holds-barred kind of people who will give you their best expertise, whether you want it or not," he said.
The group will make its recommendations Oct. 21, and the Board of Supervisors will then decide how to use the land.