The Fairfax County School Board will hold a virtual public hearing at 7 p.m. today (Thursday) on the proposed fiscal year 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Released on Dec. 17, the proposed CIP – which sets short-term priorities for school renovations, capacity enhancements, and other infrastructure projects – remains largely the same as last year’s plan, as the uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic made FCPS officials wary of making any significant new commitments.
“It is a daunting time,” FCPS Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Transportation Services Jeff Platenberg said. “…We don’t want to do anything that’ll impact our facilities or our staffing, especially with the inoculation coming, the vaccines, and then, next year, [we want to] put ourselves in a position to get back to whatever the new normal might be.”
Because students have mostly been learning virtually, FCPS staff were unable to include data on the capacity utilization of individual facilities for this school year in the CIP. Fluctuating attendance also precluded staff from making five-year projections for future student enrollment.
According to a presentation that Platenberg gave to the school board on Tuesday (Jan. 5), FCPS shed 8,338 students between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. The losses predominately came at the elementary school level, which saw a drop in membership of 7,729 students.
Because FCPS is not adding any new projects with the proposed CIP, the school system will be able to focus on the many needs that it has already identified, Platenberg says.
For the Tysons area, the CIP again proposes building an elementary school to relieve crowding around the Silver Line Metro. About $2 million from a school bond approved by voters in 2019 have been allocated to the project for planning, but the $37.5 million that FCPS estimates will be needed for construction is not yet funded.
The CIP also includes $36.8 million for a new elementary school in the Fairfax/Oakton area, but the school board has proposed using that money to convert the Dunn Loring Administrative Center into an elementary school instead.
Other CIP projects in the Tysons area include a $23.5 million addition for James Madison High School and renovation projects at the following schools, which are listed with estimated cost and completion dates:
- Louise Archer Elementary School ($29.7 million, FY 2025)
- Mosby Woods Elementary School ($37.9 million, FY 2025)
- Cooper Middle School ($51.8 million, FY 2023)
- Falls Church High School ($132.5 million, FY 2026)
The CIP does not include any infrastructure projects to address capacity challenges at McLean High School, which is currently the subject of a boundary adjustment study in conjunction with Langley High School, Cooper Middle School, and Longfellow Middle School.
Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said at the school board meeting that, even if a boundary adjustment is ultimately approved, it would not move enough students to Langley to solve the overcrowding at McLean.
Acknowledging concerns from the community about capacity projections for Langley potentially being too low, Tholen noted that she is part of a working group that is analyzing data on development in Tysons, McLean, and West Falls Church and how it will affect schools.
“Even though this was a year without many changes, as we do this analysis, if things are warranted like an addition at McLean, it will be added to a future CIP,” Tholen said. “Any changes that need to be made at Langley will be added in the future.”
Overall, the proposed CIP carries a five-year requirement of $1.1 billion. While only $314.8 million of that is currently covered, Platenberg says the unfunded commitment should be addressed by future bond referendums, which are put on the ballot for Fairfax County voters every two years.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the CIP on Feb. 4.
Images via FCPS