George C. Marshall High School is the scene of organized chaos: construction trucks; hammering and clinking; workers in hard hats everywhere you look.
These are the signs of summertime school construction, which kicks into high gear in August when workers fight the deadline of completing as much as possible before students return to classes Sept. 4.
Marshall High in Falls Church is one of more than 60 Fairfax County Public Schools undergoing construction this summer. Although some of the projects are less involved, Marshall, which opened in 1962, is entering the second year of a $70.4 million renovation which will add 80,000 square feet to its current of its 284,000 square feet. The renovation is on schedule to be completed during the 2014-15 school year, school officials said.
“[Inside the school] there’s no acoustical ceiling. All of the innards are exposed. … There’s a lot of workers,” Marshall Principal Jay Pearson said. “But on the first day of school, you’ll see a cleaned up version of that. The floors will be shiny.”
The school’s gym and locker rooms will open to students this fall, with administrative offices scheduled to open in October along with a two-story science addition, said Kevin Sneed, director of the school system’s Design and Construction Services.
“It’s not going to look anything like the Marshall they are used to,” Sneed said. “The parking has been moved. There are additions on either side; so they’ll have some temporary main entrances.”
Marshall is home to some 1,680 students. Additions and renovations will allow for as many as 2,000 students to attend the school.
“We designed it for 2,000 students, with extra seats,” Sneed said. “But it looks like Marshall will grow to about 1,950 kids in the next five years. So thank goodness we did that.”
Pearson said a school under construction means extra forethought for students.
He gives this advice to returning students: “You’ve got to plan your day. If you’re going outside to a class that’s in a trailer, know the weather [forecast] … I’ve got to give the kids credit. They’ve really adapted well.
“Our first big mid-year shift will take place in mid-October/November where we will gain access to that new space,” Pearson added. “All our science rooms, art rooms and business and marketing [classes] will come online so we’ll move all those classrooms around. … We’ll be just shuffling people around.”
This summer there are 31 schools with major construction projects, similar to Marshall’s, including two new schools both recently completed.
New schools have the added challenge of hiring staff and buying supplies and furniture while construction is under way.
“In the next couple of weeks, boxes of materials will be unpacked and placed, plans for school opening celebrations will [be] finalized, and signage for outside will be completed,” said Marsha Manning, principal of the new South County Middle School in Lorton, which will include staff from the now divided South County Secondary School — solely a high school this fall. Construction costs were about $22 million.
“Preparing a new school to open provides the unique opportunity of creating and implementing a new vision,” Manning said. “From selecting and ordering new furniture, to creating a technology plan and decided utilization of space, to selecting staff and implementing new instructional programs. A new school comes to life.”
The new Mason Crest Elementary School in Annandale, which cost about $14 million, also is opening this fall. Principal Brian Butler and Assistant Principal Diane Kerr said the school is finalizing schedules and putting the finishing touches on the school’s construction — including adding signage to the exterior of the building.
School construction is funded through county-issued bonds, voted on by county residents. This summer, six schools are undergoing major renovations, which include six major additions ranging from 10,700 to 303,000 square feet. Ten elementary and middle schools are receiving additions.
Edison High School students are nearing the end of their school’s multi-year renovation project — a 303,000 square foot renovation with an addition of 48,000 square feet — during a four-year period. The renovations are scheduled to be completed this fall and cost about $78 million.
“We are very proud of our ‘new’ building,” said Edison Principal Pamela Ellison Brumfield. “We are optimistic that the remaining construction in our gym and [Edison] Academy will be completed in the next couple of weeks prior to the start of school. … The construction in the main areas of the building was completed before the end of the last school year so there should not be confusion among the students as to the location of classrooms, library, gym, et cetera.”
Compared to last summer, this year’s construction projects represent a lull year, Sneed said. In 2011, nearly 200 schools were under construction with major projects at 91 schools. Part of the reason for the higher number of construction projects last year was because of the implementation of full-day kindergarten, which meant adding classroom spaces to 36 elementary schools.
“Next summer and the following summer we’ll have about three times the number of projects,” Sneed said. “We’re bidding Sandburg [Middle School in Alexandria] this fall, which is a huge middle school renovation and then we’re going to bid [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] in January.”
Construction levels come in waves, Sneed said. When costs are lower, the school system tries to increase the number of projects.
The challenge of summer construction is to finish and prepare the school in time for teachers to start moving back into their schools.
“This year, we’re looking at the week of Aug. 20 [as a deadline] to make sure everything is safe for occupancy,” Sneed said. “We treat it as if the kids are there.”