Newsletter

Morning Notes

County Appoints New Parks Director — “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors affirmed the selection of Jai Cole as Executive Director of the Park Authority [Tuesday]…Cole, a park professional with more than two decades of leadership experience with award-winning recreation and park agencies will begin immediately, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of…Kirk Kincannon earlier this year.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Deadline for COVID-19 Relief Grants Extended — Fairfax County has extended the application deadline for its Active and Thriving Community Grants Program to 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 21. Previously set to close yesterday (Tuesday), the program is intended to help child care providers, community programs, and other small businesses and nonprofits negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. [Fairfax County Government]

Tysons Adapts to Decline in Commuting — With the pandemic keeping many workers at home, local business leaders say a growing emphasis on mixed-use developments like The Boro and Capital One Center will help office-centric Tysons adapt to a world of remote work. Proximity to transit and retail amenities will be key to attracting young employees, ID.me Chief Marketing Officer Jean Rosauer said at last week’s Future of Tysons event. [Bisnow]

Some Teachers Skeptical of Live-Streaming Proposal — “After Fairfax County Public Schools added classroom streaming for students forced to stay home because of COVID-19, some teachers are pushing back…David Walrod, a teacher at FCPS, who also serves as the first Vice President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, worries that the live streaming will evolve into concurrent learning — which even the superintendent said wasn’t ideal for students.” [WUSA9]

Tysons Security Company Evacuated Clients from Afghanistan — “As U.S. troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan, Tysons-based Global Guardian reached out to its clients there to offer evacuation assistance. On August 5, 10 days before the Afghan government collapsed, the company began evacuating its clients from Kabul and two other cities. By August 18, Global Guardian had successfully evacuated all but one individual, whom it later got out of the country.” [Fairfax County EDA]

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Morning Notes

Prepare for Remnants of Hurricane IdaTropical Depression Ida is expected to hit the D.C. area today (Wednesday). A Flash Flood Watch will take effect this morning, and Gov. Ralph Northam has already declared a state of emergency. Fairfax County says to avoid flooded streets, remove valuables from basements, and ensure storm drains and gutters aren’t clogged, and Falls Church City residents can borrow sandbags until 3 p.m. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

County Grants Program Now Accepting Applicants — Fairfax County’s new Active and Thriving Community Grants Program opened its application portal yesterday (Tuesday) and will accept applicants until 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14. Approved on July 27, the program will allocate $10 million in federal relief money to select small businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. [Fairfax County Government]

FCPS Ready to Help Afghan Refugee Students — “[Annandale resident] Tahir is awaiting the arrival of his wife and other children, who were among thousands of Afghans who fled after the Taliban takeover earlier this month…When his family arrives, one of his priorities will be enrolling the children in school. A spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools said faculty and staff are already helping Afghan refugees enroll their children and providing them with additional support to help students adjust to their new environment.” [Inside NoVA]

Longtime Falls Church Crossing Guard Retires — “It was almost like any other day as Audrey Luthman greeted students heading to school Tuesday morning. She’s helped Falls Church students cross the roads safely since 1971, but her work has come to an end…City of Falls Church officials and families gathered Tuesday morning to celebrate Luthman’s 50 years of service and retirement.” [Patch]

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Traveling Players Ensemble is one of the organizations to receive funding from ArtsFairfax (via Traveling Players Ensemble/Facebook)

ArtsFairfax has awarded grant funding to 40 nonprofit organizations in Fairfax County, the arts agency recently announced.

This year, ArtsFairfax received requests for over $937,000 in funding and allocated a total of $441,900.

The Operating Support Grant program is designed to assist local, nonprofit arts organizations with funding to support their basic operational needs.

In recognition of the challenges that the arts community has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, ArtsFairfax says it increased the minimum grant amount to $1,000 and waived a requirement that recipients match the funds they receive.

ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda S. Sullivan says the program was also modified to place more emphasis on equity and how organizations are considering issues of diversity, access, and inclusion in their operations, programs, and services.

“The past year has created an unprecedented hardship for arts organizations and artists,” Sullivan said. “The Operating Support Grant provides arts organizations with critically needed funding for basic operations — funding that helps keeps the doors open — as they develop artistic programming for audiences return.”

The Tysons, Vienna, McLean, and Falls Church organizations that received grants are:

“Fairfax County residents benefit from a dynamic and diverse arts sector,” Sullivan said. “To sustain and grow our cultural capital over the long-term requires a consistent source of public and private funds. ArtsFairfax’s Operating Support Grants are a direct investment in our community ensuring that the arts remain centerpieces and economic engines in our community.”

Photo via Traveling Players Ensemble/Facebook

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Fairfax County Public Schools’ first electric school bus (courtesy Dominion Energy)

Fairfax County Public Schools will soon add another 10 electric school buses to its fleet, thanks to a new $2.65 million state grant.

19 school districts, including FCPS, will collectively receive more than $10 million in the latest round of allocations from Virginia’s Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust — enough to replace 83 diesel school buses with electric and propane-fueled vehicles, Gov. Ralph Northam announced last Wednesday (Aug. 19).

“Virginia’s investments in electrifying the school bus fleets is an important and critical part of our comprehensive approach to reducing pollution,” Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said in the news release. “Collectively, the replacement of these school buses is calculated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10,000 tons per year, and will save one million gallons of diesel fuel, equivalent to removing 2,000 cars from the road.”

Administered by Department of Environmental Quality, the Volkswagen trust comes from Virginia’s $93.6 million share of the $2.7 billion settlement that the automobile manufacturer agreed to in 2016 after violating the Clean Air Act by cheating vehicle emissions tests.

Virginia announced the first round of funding from the trust on May 7, awarding over $9.4 million to help local governments purchase electric vehicles for their fleets. Fairfax County got more than $4 million for shuttle buses, waste and recycling trucks, and a truck for its public library system.

FCPS currently has eight electric buses that were placed in service this past May. The first bus arrived in January as part of a pilot program developed by Dominion Energy, which rolled out 50 buses across the state with plans to replace all diesel school buses with electric ones by 2030.

However, the future of Fairfax County’s transition to electric school buses has become a little hazier after the Virginia House of Delegates rejected an expansion of Dominion’s program that would’ve added 1,000 more electric school buses, a sign of legislators’ growing wariness of the utility company’s influence.

During its spring special session, the General Assembly voted to create an Electric Vehicle Grant Fund to help with the costs of adding electric school buses. Northam signed the bill into law, but the program has no funding yet.

Dominion confirmed that the newly awarded DEQ grants are unrelated to its program, which covered the difference in cost of an electric bus versus a diesel one as well as the cost and installation of charging stations.

“Children deserve clean transportation to school and we’re excited to see Virginia moving that way,” Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox said. “The goal with our innovative program was to accelerate the adoption of electric school buses, so we’re thrilled to see more of these clean-running buses with zero emissions rolling out across Virginia.”

The utility says it is still offering to install charging stations for school districts for free in exchange for the ability to return stored energy back into the electric grid when the buses are idle and the chance to buy the bus batteries after the vehicles pass their life span.

“We will be involved if schools systems chose so,” Fox said in an email.

FCPS says its transportation department “continues to evaluate” its existing electric buses and work with vendor Thomas Built Buses to make adjustments.

While shifting to electric buses is expected to reduce operational and maintenance costs in the long run, the district’s transition is currently limited by the availability of funding and charging infrastructure, which affects where the buses can be assigned.

“As more funding opportunities become available, as the technology is refined for school division needs, and as charging infrastructure becomes readily available, FCPS plans to transition its fleet of 1,625 buses to electric,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said by email.

The 10 new buses funded by the DEQ grant are scheduled to arrive in March 2022.

“Operation and maintenance of the electric buses are being monitored and evaluated for efficiency of operation and cost savings,” Moult said.

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Bowls of fruit (via Melissa Belanger/Unsplash)

Two Fairfax County organizations have been awarded grants from a national nonprofit aimed at increasing access for food service programs for children and their families.

The Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center and Cornerstones in Reston both received grants from No Kid Hungry, a campaign from the national nonprofit Save Our Strength, whose mission is to end hunger and poverty.

No Kid Hungry announced on July 26 that it has distributed $1.16 million in grants to more than 30 Virginia school districts and organizations to combat food insecurity and provide more access to food to children and families.

The Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center received $25,000, and Cornerstones was granted $30,000.

“We are thrilled to get the grant and happy to help families in ways we couldn’t otherwise,” Renee Boyle, development director at the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, said.

Located at 7230 Idylwood Road, the children’s center provides early childhood education, along with an after-school child care program specifically for students at nearby Lemon Road Elementary School in Falls Church.

Boyle says the center will share money from the grant with the Seven Corners Children’s Center, a preschool in Falls Church.

$15,000 will go towards providing low-income families at both centers with grocery cards that can be used at their discretion. That way, children and their families, including parents and older siblings, can have easier access to food even outside of the schools’ walls, Boyle says.

“Oftentimes, it can be difficult getting to school to get food, or [the kids] don’t attend pre-school,” she said. “This allows [families] to purchase fruits, veggies, and meats of their choice and reflects their ethnic preferences.”

The other $10,000 will go towards contracting Good Food Company out of Arlington to provide high-quality lunches at the center. They provide meals full of fresh vegetables, proteins, and wholesome dishes, Boyle says.

“The menu varies everyday and they’re higher quality meals than county public schools,” she said.

Cornerstones — a nonprofit that provides assistance with food, shelter, child care, and other basic needs — is using its grant to rent an outdoor storage unit to expand its pantry program, pay off-site storage facility costs, and purchase a new cargo van to deliver fresh food to households in need, CEO Kerrie Wilson says.

Food insecurity remains a huge challenge in the D.C. region. About 1% of residents in several pockets of Reston, Vienna, Tysons, and Herndon were food-insecure in 2020, according to Capital Area Food Bank research.

One in eight children under 18 in Virginia live in a household where they may not be getting enough to eat, according to No Kid Hungry.

“If it weren’t for the free meals being offered by schools and community organizations, that number would be much higher,” No Kid Hungry Virginia Associate Director Sarah Steely said.

Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center Executive Director Lucy Pelletier says existing food access challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic due in large part to employment uncertainty.

“We are seeing that our families are in widely varied states of employment recovery,” Pelletier said in a statement. “Our parents who are restaurant servers are exhausted from all their overtime hours because restaurants can’t hire enough employees. Parents in other direct service jobs such as house cleaning are either working less than pre-pandemic levels due to clients’ fears of covid, or they are traveling further to fill their schedule with families willing to accept cleaners into their homes.”

Rising food prices also means that paychecks are not going as far as they used too, she added.

Food insecurity also disportionately impacts communities of color and immigrants. Cornerstones says about 70% of the people it serves are people of color and 40% are children, half of whom identify as a member of a minority or immigrant community.

The nonprofit surveyed some of the residents it works with and found that food stability remains a huge, immediate concern.

“Food stability is a continued top priority and source of stress for themselves and their families,” Wilson said. “The concerns about access to healthy and adequate food and nutrition was significantly higher in respondents who identified as people of color and immigrants.”

Community organizations like the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center and Cornerstones are critical to ensuring children have enough healthy food to eat, because they can provide access outside of schools, especially during summer and winter breaks.

“These meal programs work together with nutrition programs like Pandemic EBT and SNAP to ensure kids have enough to eat,” Steely said by email. “We know that summer can be the hungriest time of the year for children and families across the Commonwealth and beyond.”

Photo via Melissa Belanger/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Storm Brings Power Outages, Hail to Fairfax County — Thunderstorms swept through Fairfax County last night (Wednesday), resulting in reports of damaging winds and even hail “that toppled trees and wires.” As of midnight, Dominion Energy’s outage map showed thousands of people in the county without power, particularly around McLean. [Capital Weather Gang]

Farmer’s Market Nonprofit Awarded State GrantFRESHFARM will get a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund to establish new fresh food mobile markets in food-insecure areas of Northern Virginia. The nonprofit operates several farmer’s markets in Fairfax County, including the ones at the Mosaic District and The Boro. [Patch]

More Traffic Control Sought for Great Falls Park — “Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) officials are seeking to have the federal government provide $100,000 in permanent, annual funding for U.S. Park Police to control traffic at Old Dominion Drive and Georgetown Pike outside the park’s entrance when park usage is especially heavy…Traffic congestion outside the park routinely occurs on weekends, holidays and fee-free days from March through early November, GFCA leaders said.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Madison HS Student Brings Books and Bikes to Tanzania — James Madison High School rising junior Sophia Brown organized a bicycle drive at the Vienna school in May and collected dozens of donated books to bring to Tanzania for a Girl Scout project. Sophia traveled to the East African country this summer with support from the nonprofit Wheels to Africa, which she has worked with since she was in second grade. [FCPS]

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Fairfax County Government Center (via Fairfax County/Facebook)

Fairfax County will use an estimated $10 million in COVID-19 relief money for another major grant program aimed at helping community partners keep their doors open.

The Board of Supervisors approved the Active and Thriving Community Grants Program at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday), where grants will range from $2,000 to $18,000 depending on the size of the business or nonprofit.

While businesses have pushed to reopen, many continue to struggle, and COVID-19 concerns persist. The grants target child care providers, community-based safety net providers, youth recreational or educational programs, youth athletic groups, and pools.

“As someone who visits a child care center everyday, they’re still operating under COVID restrictions that other businesses aren’t,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said during the board meeting. “So, they’re still dealing with that in terms of capacity and PPE [personal protective equipment] and masking.”

County staff reported that many community-based organizations “continue to struggle economically” due to COVID-19 and most have had to cancel or significantly alter major fundraising events.

“For many, giving levels have not returned to prior levels,” county staff wrote in the meeting agenda. “For many donors, giving patterns have changed. Even where giving has increased, it has not made up for lost revenue or increased expenses.”

Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services Deputy Director Sarah Allen told the board that the application period for the new grant program will launch by the end of August.

To be eligible, recipients will be required to show that they had a 15% decline in gross revenue in 2020 compared to 2019 or a 15% increase in expenditures directly tied to costs due to the pandemic.

The new grants are projected to allocate:

  • $4.3 million for child care providers
  • $1.9 million for community-based safety net providers
  • $1.8 million for youth recreational or educational programs
  • $1.5 million for youth athletic organizations
  • $500,000 for pools

“A lot of these organizations survived through the pandemic because the…volunteer board members or the parents or community members involved dipped into their own pockets to keep things going so they didn’t have to go out of business,” Walkinshaw said.

The money comes as the county is finalizing awards for its PIVOT program, which will provide over $24.4 million in grants from the American Rescue Plan Act to businesses in the retail, food, and lodging sectors and other organizations financially affected by the pandemic.

When the county created the PIVOT program on June 8, staff were also looking for ways to provide additional assistance. A county survey of child care programs conducted in March found that over half of respondents did not know how long they would be able to stay open without financial support.

“The potential closure of child care programs could come at a time when more parents are returning to work, impacting working parents and their children, employers, and the child care workforce and their families,” the staff report said.

In awarding the grants, the county expects to use a priority measure related to vulnerable populations to pick recipients in the child care and pool categories. The remaining awards would be determined by a lottery system.

It wasn’t immediately clear how exactly the priority measure would work, but the county said staff will look at the social and economic conditions that made populations more vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as recent economic, health, and other data relevant to the pandemic’s impact.

Similar to the PIVOT grants, the county will use a third-party vendor — the Latino Economic Development Corp. — for the online grant administration portal and awards. Advertising and outreach in multiple languages will begin before the August launch.

“This grant program will prioritize disproportionately impacted populations and communities wherever possible,” county staff said.

Photo via Fairfax County/Facebook

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

Fairfax County could send over $24.4 million in federal money to small businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic through its PIVOT grant program.

The money, which doesn’t have to be repaid, is intended to help economic recovery efforts. After an application period ran from June 23 to July 9, county officials gave updates on the program to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during an economic initiatives committee meeting this morning (Tuesday), stressing the timing and scope of the support.

“Our retail services and amusements businesses really did need this funding,” said Theresa Benincasa, economic mobility manager with the county’s Department of Economic Initiatives. “They stepped up and requested it in large numbers.”

Nearly 1,600 applicants for Fairfax County’s small business PIVOT grant program are eligible to get the money based on an initial eligibility check, while 921 applicants are ineligible, county staff reported.

During the meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay asked if the county had flexibility on an eligibility requirement that a business have a commercial storefront. He said two businesses approached him about the issue, one of which was a catering business tied to a closed office building.

Benincasa said officials could work with him on that issue.

Most of the applicants that were ineligible didn’t meet the threshold for economic injury. Over 300 didn’t have a commercial storefront, and nearly 200 secured a Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant, which provided $283,000 on average, according to the county.

Recipients had to have at least a 15% loss in annual revenue. Eligible applicants averaged a 46% reduction in revenue and 25% reduction in employees, according to county data.

Benincasa noted that applications are still moving through a three-step process to obtain the money. The first step involved using a web portal to determine initial eligibility, and the remaining steps could last from August to November.

The grants are being funded with $25 million that the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act. If demand surpassed that threshold, the county had prepared to prioritize funding to hotels and then create a lottery system for other applicants, but because it didn’t, that randomization element will be scrapped, the county said Tuesday.

The breakdown of awards is projected to be the following:

  • $14.1 million to 1,178 applicants with an average of four employees in the areas of retail, services, and amusements
  • $5.4 million to 309 applicants with an average of eight employees in the food service sector
  • Nearly $4.5 million to 61 applicants with an average of 25 employees in the lodging sector
  • $415,000 to 49 applicants with an average of four employees in the areas of arts organizations, museums, and historical sites.

The awards range from $1,500 to $18,000 per business, which all had to have 500 employees or fewer.

Hotels could receive $400 per room if they had 10 rooms or more. In January, the American Hotel and Lodging Association released a report on the “sharp and sustained” drop in travel due to COVID-19 in 2020 and projected that the travel industry won’t fully recover until 2024.

Benincasa said that most of the hotels in the county are getting PIVOT money, but that didn’t include all of them, possibly because of the 500-employee cap.

“The need is immediate,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who chairs the economic initiatives committee, noting the county’s work isn’t finished in helping small businesses.

Photo via Machvee/Flickr

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The Fairfax County School Board approved a framework yesterday (Thursday) to seek federal COVID-19 money, with the stipulation that it gets increased oversight and input on how the money will be spent.

The roughly $189 million plan would start with the upcoming school year and extend to June 2024. It is intended to help Fairfax County Public Schools respond to issues stemming from the pandemic.

“While we did have a public hearing about where people would like us to target our monies, we have not had the opportunity to get the greater details from the superintendent and his team,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said.

The school board thanked district administrators for developing the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) framework after learning about the incoming funds in May, but several board officials questioned whether the proposal was sufficiently detailed and provided enough accountability.

“The ESSER funds are unlike other funding by the federal government in that it has a requirement to have extensive community input and outreach,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said.

The ESSER III money will support school operations, cover increased workloads for Individualized Education Program (IEP) staff, aid academic interventions, address students’ social and emotional needs, help with translation services for students, and more.

The largest costs, as identified by district staff so far, would involve:

  • $54.9 million for academic intervention
  • $46.2 million for special education teacher contracts
  • $23.3 million for social and emotional learning needs
  • Nearly $20.2 million for summer 2022 learning
  • Nearly $14 million for afterschool programming and transportation

According to an FCPS presentation about the program, the ESSER money should address the impacts of the pandemic especially for students who have been disproportionately affected, and at least 20% must be used to address learning loss, among other rules.

The money will come through the Virginia Department of Education from the American Rescue Plan Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Corbett-Sanders said FCPS faces an Aug. 1 deadline for submitting a general framework to the state before giving a more specific plan for how it will spend the funds by Sept. 1.

“Rather than just greenlighting, ‘They’re giving us $188.6 million, we’re going to put it in a line item list,’ we felt that it was important to have a little bit more comprehensive planning around the ESSER funds grant,” Corbett-Sanders said.

With the board’s initial approval, Superintendent Scott Brabrand will present an official ESSER III plan prior to the board’s Aug. 26 business meeting. He will present more detailed information, including targeted goals, operational timelines, and accountability metrics in a September work session.

The board’s motion also stipulated that state-filed amendments to the plan that reach $100,000 or more must be authorized by the board.

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via Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) Two technology companies in Tysons have each received $100,000 grants as part of a new state initiative intended to support projects that turn research into commercial products or services.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced yesterday (Monday) that Virginia will award $3.4 million in grants to 34 small, technology-focused businesses for the inaugural round of the Commonwealth Commercialization Fund (CCF), which launched in 2020 to help advance promising technology through the development process.

The Tysons-based recipients are the cybersecurity company Onclave Networks Inc. and Jeeva Informatics Solutions Inc., which is developing a cloud platform to help medical researchers recruit and work with patients for clinical trials.

“Facilitating research breakthroughs and getting new technologies out of the lab and into the hands of consumers is key to driving economic growth and creating jobs in the Commonwealth,” Northam said in the news release. “I am confident this first round of CCF awards will produce far-reaching benefits and congratulate these innovators and entrepreneurs on their success in developing transformative solutions to improve lives and address some of the most pressing challenges we face.”

The CCF consolidated Virginia’s existing Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund and Virginia Research Investment Fund. Each of the Fiscal Year 2021 recipients received $100,000 and will provide matching funds.

According to the news release from the governor’s office, the fund focuses on technology “with a high potential for economic development and job creation” and that “position the Commonwealth as a national leader in science- and technology-based research, development, and commercialization.”

Onclave received a grant for its Zero Trust network, which aims to allow for remote communications and operations of “smart” infrastructure, such as telemedicine services or autonomous transportation, while providing protection from security threats.

The company previously received funding from the 2020 Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund and was selected to participate in the Smart City Works accelerator program as a winner of Fairfax County’s first Smart City Challenge in March.

Onclave is also working with the Center for Innovative Technology to deploy its technology at the Virginia Smart Community Testbed in Stafford County.

“We have repeatedly seen how important it is to secure not just our devices and networks, but the data as well,” CIT Chief Technology Officer David Ihrie said in a statement. “As the Internet of Things continues to rapidly expand, cybersecurity solutions like Onclave’s Zero Trust platform are essential foundational elements of our new digital infrastructure.”

Other Fairfax County recipients of CCF funding include AtWork Systems and Rimstorm Inc. in Herndon as well as Service Robotics & Technologies in Springfield and Keshif in Alexandria.

“The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority applauds the granting of the inaugural round of the Commonwealth Commercialization Fund awards, including to the 6 Fairfax County-area-based companies,” Fairfax County Economic Development President and CEO Victor Hoskins said by email. “The CCF awards will provide funding support to spur research commercialization, with the intent of technological development leading to economic growth in Virginia.”

Photo via Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

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