Loudoun County should build a science and technology academy on the 101-acre parcel in Ashburn it purchased last year, a panel of land-use experts recommended Friday.
The idea brought praise from Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), who suggested that such a school could rival Fairfax County's elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and a retort from School Board member Robert F. DuPree Jr. (Dulles).
"We have such an academy. We opened it six weeks ago," DuPree said, referring to the Loudoun Academy of Science, a magnet program at Sterling's Dominion High School in which students take math and science classes every other day.
The recommendation Friday came from a seven-member panel representing the Urban Land Institute, a 25,000-member nonprofit research organization. It is the first time the county has hired the institute, and panelists included architects, developers, planners and real estate attorneys from across the country.
After five days of interviews with public officials and business leaders, the group presented its recommendations to about 50 people in the boardroom of the County Government Center. The county paid the organization $115,000 to conduct the study, but panelists were not paid individually for their work.
The science and technology school would capitalize on the concentration of technology businesses in the area, panelists said. They envisioned a student attending classes in the morning and walking to a nearby high-technology company for an internship in the afternoon.
"This campus will be a destination for creative minds in all areas of the county," said panelist Lyneir Richardson, a vice president of General Growth Properties in Chicago.
The school would be the capstone of a mixed-use project that the panel suggested could include commercial and business development, recreational space and county office space.
"This is a spot for something truly innovative, groundbreaking," said James DeFrancia, chairman of the panel and president of Lowe Enterprises Community Development in Aspen, Colo.
Waters said she was impressed with the group's report. "I'm excited about the potential for cross-pollination between public uses and the private sector," she said, adding that she thought the school could be a "signature piece" in Loudoun.
The county bought the land last year from the Islamic Saudi Academy for $13.5 million after the school scrapped plans to build a 3,500-student campus there. Officials of the Saudi Embassy-run school decided to expand their campus in Fairfax instead of moving to Loudoun.
Academy officials said at the time that they hoped Loudoun would use the land for educational purposes.
Before the Urban Land Institute panel met, the School Board had recommended to the Board of Supervisors that 40 acres of the site be used for an elementary school and a vocational and technical school.
DuPree said that he was glad to see that the panel included public education in its findings and that he thinks a vocational school, which would include technology training and be a partner with local businesses, could fit within the latest recommendations.
"Our vision is not incompatible with what you have proposed," he told panelists.
Supervisors have the final say on how the land will be used. Waters, chairman of the board's Economic Development Committee, said the panel will take up the proposals at its meeting Tuesday.
The panel's recommendations can be viewed online at www.loudoun.gov/business/panel/ulipanel.pdf.