Residents of the Dunn Loring community south of Tysons Corner are fighting an attempt by Fairfax school officials to swap an abandoned school for a new school site in another part of the county.
School officials say they need new school sites in the southern and western parts of the county, where booming home construction over the past five years has left schools in those areas bulging at the seams.
But residents of the Dunn Loring area say the day is rapidly coming when the small boom now under way in residential construction in their own area will create a need to reopen the old Dunn Loring Elementary School at the intersection of Gallows and Idylwood roads.
The Dunn Loring community straddles Gallows Road between Rte. 7 to Merrifield and the Vienna Metro station.
Fairfax School Superintendent William Burkholder has recommended to the Board of Education that the Dunn Loring school site be made available "for swap or exchange for a site" where demands for new schools are increasing daily, a school official said. The board is expected to act on Burkholder's proposal on Thursday.
Several commercial developers reportedly have talked with school officials about a swap. For example, a builder could buy a suitable school site in the growing part of Fairfax where a new school is needed and then arrange a swap for the Dunn Loring site. The latter site is considered one of the most valuable 11-acre parcels of land in the Gallows Road corridor if a developer could rezone the property for high-density residential use or some sort of commercial use.
However, during a recent public hearing held by school officials, 13 of the 14 Dunn Loring residents who testified opposed such a swap.
Robert Summers, a resident of Dunn Loring for more than two decades, said that the "main reason for not swapping the school is that it is still in the middle of a neighborhood that is still residential."
Although some would argue that the trend along the Gallows corridor is toward additional commercial development, there is strong support among residents for residential development near existing houses. Local real estate agents said prices are stable for existing homes and rising for new ones nearly completed.
"The area is growing by 80 to 100 single-family homes this year. Next year, housing starts will hit 200," according to Summers. There are lots of small two- to eight-acre parcels in the area, neighbors said.
All of that new construction could mean that the old Dunn Loring School would be needed once again as an elementary facility, residents said. Another reason for leaving the school "as is," they said, is the rumored possible closing of nearby Freedom Hill Elementary School.
Burkholder is expected to present the school board with recommendations in December for possible changes in elementary school boundaries and possible closings. But no action on any proposal will be taken before January, according to Al Hlavin, assistant superintendent for facilities services for the Fairfax school system.
"The staff has held community meetings. The community is against the system's swapping the school," Hlavin said. "They did not want us to change it or trade it. They want us to keep it in case it is needed," he said. "The superintendent has recommended that the board declare it available for trade or exchange."
He conceded that the possible future closing of Freedom Hill would have an impact on existing elementary schools as far away as the Lemon Road School on Idylwood Road and the Springhill School on Lewinsville Road, as well as on schools in the Vienna area. But school officials back off from talking about the possible reopening of Dunn Loring Elementary.
After last year's controversial changing of boundary lines for intermediate and high schools, school officials said boundary changes for elementary schools would be likely this year to "purify" the traditional pyramid system under which Fairfax has tried to operate its schools. Under that system of feeder schools, elementary schools feed into intermediate schools, which, in turn, feed into high schools, thereby creating what school officials call "a bonding process for students." But that pyramid system may be impossible to keep in its pure state as a result of the high school boundary changes instituted when school opened in September.
The board is under pressure to build schools where student populations are, in the high-growth areas of southern and western Fairfax.
"Where we really need a site is off Silverbrook Road and on the west side of the Lorton Reformatory," Hlavin said.
Many county residents have told school officials to make the best use of their existing assets before going to the public for bond issues to fund more schools, Hlavin said.