Fairfax County’s five “legacy high schools” could be receiving renovations sooner than expected.
The county School Board prioritized facilities upgrades for the schools at its meeting last Thursday. This group of schools - Falls Church, Herndon, Langley, Oakton and West Springfield - were all built around the same time in the 1960s and have never been fully renovated.
The move came as the School Board considered its building plans for the next five years.
The 2015-19 Capital Improvement Program, a projection of the school system’s facilities needs, includes $866 million in construction and renovations. The CIP called for five new elementary schools and one new high school to help cover enrollment growth.
At the same time, the list of existing schools in need of renovation grows ever longer. And before last week’s School Board meeting, relief for one of the legacy high schools - Falls Church - was not even on the horizon.
Before approving the CIP last Thursday, the School Board voted unanimously to add Falls Church to the docket.
Still, while all five legacy high schools are now on the schedule presented in the CIP, only renovations for Langley are on schedule to be completed in the next five years. In five year’s time, renovations for Falls Church, Herndon, Oakton and West Springfield will likely still be in planning.
“The major disappointment for me is that Falls Church is really no further along than it was before,” said School Board member Patty Reed (Providence District). “To me, this is one of the last schools that should be waiting and waiting.”
Concern over the urgency of updating these five schools prompted the School Board to adopt an additional resolution, directing staff to identify methods to expedite renovations at legacy high schools. The Board plans to hear the possible options by July.
Several School Board members worried that such prioritizing of legacy high schools would set a poor precedent.
The school administration contracts independent engineering firms to determine the order of schools to be renovated based on need. With this resolution, School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully District) said they took a step toward “politicizing” what has been an impartial process.
Yet for other School Board members, the resolution demonstrated needed flexibility in matching plans to the reality of the school system’s needs.
“I’m not implying that if people come out and lobby hard enough they can manipulate the CIP,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District). “We need to learn from the community. Every system has things they can do better.”
The debate sparked a larger discussion of how the school renovation schedule is determined, a discussion that - like the ultimate timeline of the legacy high school renovations - had to be tabled for a later date.
“I’m hopeful that when we come back to this we will be much farther along both in this discussion and in where we are with our legacy high schools,” said School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District).