Concept art of the new campus for Bailey’s Elementary School showed a brightly colored plastic slide twisting its way from the building’s top floor to the ground.
While the slide will not actually make an appearance at the new school, the school system wanted to show that they are taking student, staff and community input seriously in designing Fairfax County’s first urban-style school.
A five-story office building on Leesburg Pike is being converted into a school to house the third through fifth grades from Bailey’s Elementary, which currently operates at 33 percent over capacity. Starting this September, the 99,000-square-foot building will hold about 700 Bailey’s students.
However, despite the issue of overcrowding, the unorthodox solution met with skepticism from many in the community, who had trouble envisioning the traditional office building brimming with students.
School officials, architects and the principal of Bailey’s Elementary sought to ease these worries on Monday, presenting a first look at draft plans for the building renovation.
“It’s still in evolution,” said Lauren Ford, an architect with Cooper Carry, the firm the school system hired for the project. “We’re going fast and furious, but we’re getting the visions of the kids, the teachers and the administrators to see what works for their school.”
Ford wants to use the L-shaped design of the building to create learning communities at each end of the “L,” with areas for students to work together and interact with their peers from other classrooms and grade levels. The middle of the building will serve as the “spine” for the school, housing the library, fitness areas and other facilities used by all students.
The library is expected to span two floors, the upper floor housing most of the books and the lower floor offering an educational theater space.
“We’ve got the opportunity to really see our visions come to life,” said Marie Lemmon, the principal at Bailey’s Elementary. “We’re excited to see more innovative, collaborative approaches at work.”
Starting next school year, Lemmon will serve as principal for both Bailey’s campuses. The current school is located 1.4 miles from the new building.
To ensure security for students, no classrooms will be located on the first floor, which will instead house the administrative space.
Still, there are some concerns that the architects and school system are working to address.
For example, the office building does not allow for a traditional gym. Initially, school officials hoped an external gym could be built, but that proved unfeasible. Now, there are plans for three “fitness rooms,” which together would have as much space as a gym, according to Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction for county schools.
Also, the school will have no outdoor play area, at least at the start. Construction on an outdoor play space would not start until after school opens in September.
“I have to put myself in the shoes of parents,” said School Board Member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District). “If my child was going to be going there in September, I’d really be concerned. At the elementary school level, recess and break time is what a lot of these kids live for.”
Still, Superintendent Karen Garza expressed confidence that the new urban-design school will become an educational flagship for the county.
“This school can provide us a new way of looking at classrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and libraries,” Garza said. “This will truly be a 21st century learning environment, and I look forward to seeing it take shape.”