PHILLIPS Programs president and CEO Piper Phillips Caswell cuts a ribbon marking the completion of a new parking lot for the school, which helps students with academic, behavioral and emotional challenges.

It was the first time Sharon Bulova had attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a parking lot. At least, that’s what the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman told the crowd gathered on Sept. 26 outside PHILLIPS School in Annandale.

However, this wasn’t just any parking lot, and PHILLIPS School isn’t just any school.

PHILLIPS School is part of PHILLIPS Programs, a private, nonprofit organization that offers education and support services to children with emotional and behavioral problems.

The school received a new parking lot over this past summer, courtesy of more than two dozen local construction companies as part of the Heavy Construction Contractors Association’s (HCCA) annual community service project.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the school’s Annandale campus, leaders from PHILLIPS, the HCCA and Fairfax County praised the donation as an example of the positive impact that partnerships between the private, public and nonprofit sectors can have on a community.

“It’s just really important to emphasize the corporate-social responsibility that the HCCA feels toward the Northern Virginia region,” PHILLIPS Programs president and CEO Piper Phillips Caswell said. “We were very fortunate…to have a business that has an understanding and concern for our mission and the kids that we serve. It’s not something that we always experience, so it’s really terrific that they chose to partner with us.”

According to Caswell, PHILLIPS hadn’t updated its parking lot since the school moved into its current building in 1989.

So, when a paving company had to come in an emergency last winter to patch up the driveway where buses enter every morning, it became clear that the parking lot needed more than just a temporary fix. It needed a complete makeover.

The Kauffman Group, the Centreville-based construction company that carried out the temporary patch-up, is an HCCA member, and HCCA public relations committee chair Karen Garvin already had some familiarity with PHILLIPS, recommending the organization as a potential recipient of the HCCA’s annual community service project.

Thanks to those two connections, PHILLIPS managed to partner up with the HCCA, a process that started in 2015.

HCCA executive director Ken Garrison says that the association chose PHILLIPS as its 2016 project, because it wanted to find a recipient in Fairfax County, and the school’s broad scope (PHILLIPS School serves children from all over the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area) made it appealing.

“We try to spread it around geographically,” Garrison said regarding how the HCCA chooses its community service projects. “We [also] look for what’s in the work capacity of our members and where the need is, where we see a need that’s not going to be filled if we don’t do it.”

Previous HCCA community service projects include building a bio-retention pond behind an elementary school in Loudoun County and redoing a parking lot for Transitional Housing BARN, a nonprofit in Prince William County that provides temporary housing for women and children.

Timing proved to be the most challenging aspect of the PHILLIPS School project, according to Caswell, since the HCCA had to wait until students were out of school while also choosing a time when the volunteering firms weren’t engaged in other work, such as paving jobs on I-66 or I-95.

PHILLIPS found about one week during the summer when school was out and most of its staff was gone, giving the HCCA 11 days from Aug. 4 through 15 to complete the job.

Ultimately, 27 different companies got involved with the project, contributing time, equipment and manpower to replace the parking lot’s existing asphalt, repairing sidewalks and curbs, updating signs, and even checking on the water valves and storm drainage system beneath the lot’s surface.

With an estimated value around $150,000, the new parking lot involved 350 tons of new asphalt, 27 cubic yards of replaced concrete, 1,500 feet of curb that needed to be cleaned and re-painted, and the installation of more than 40 new signs, according to Kauffman Group Vice President Glenn Kauffman.

The result was not only a brand-new look for the PHILLIPS School entrance, but also improved functionality and safety for vehicles entering both the school and the Bradlick Shopping Center across the street.

“Many of our students and clients come from environments that may not be as nice or have the functions they need to live comfortably,” Caswell said. “So, it’s really important that our kids come into a building that’s reflective of all of the things that they need, that’s in good condition and they feel good about that.”

PHILLIPS School in Annandale is one of two special education day schools run by PHILLIPS Programs, which has another campus in Laurel, Md., and also operates what used to be the Oak Valley Center on Waples Mill Road in Fairfax and is now called PHILLIPS School – Fairfax.

In addition to the day schools, which serve students with learning, emotional and intellectual disabilities, PHILLIPS Programs offers career services programming for students learning building trades at its Building Futures sites in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. The organizations’ community programs branch provides counseling, support and advocacy services to families.

Speakers at the parking lot ribbon-cutting ceremony highlighted the crucial role that organizations like PHILLIPS Programs have in helping people with disabilities, who are often at risk of getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

According to PHILLIPS board of trustees vice-chairperson Michael Policicchio, the advocacy organization National Disability Rights Network estimates that as many as half of all prisoners in the U.S. have a mental illness or another kind of disability, and on average, people with a mental illness remain incarcerated four to eight times longer than those without mental illness for the same charge.

“It’s extremely expensive to house people in jail who could be better served elsewhere,” Policicchio said.

Fairfax County made an effort to address this issue when county leadership, law enforcement personnel and Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) staff launched Diversion First, a program that aims to divert people with mental illness or substance abuse issues to treatment and other support services instead of incarcerating them.

Diversion First officially started on Jan. 1, and it includes only people who come into contact with law enforcement for low-level offenses.

“The population here at Phillips could very easily be part of the population that winds up in trouble,” Bulova said. “Diversion First is a program that really will benefit the families here at Phillips.”

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