Officials Seek Proposals for Expanded and Possibly Relocated Mt. Daniel

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
March 2, 2014

Falls Church City School officials are seeking proposals from educational facilities companies for an expanded Mt. Daniel School that would house the second grade in addition to the existing kindergarten and first grades, documents and officials say.

The best of the proposals, which are due by March 21, is planned to be selected before the end of summer, indicating that officials are serious about making major changes to what is now an unusual and intimate two grade school.

In addition, officials are open to moving Mt. Daniel to a new location either within the City limits or outside them. The request for proposals from the development community says that bidders are welcome to suggest a plan that would expand the school on the current site or relocate the school to a new site. The school is currently just outside the City limits in Fairfax County.

That said, officials are not prejudicing the proposals with any type of preference at this point. They say they are neutral on the options of keeping the school at its commanding site on top of the north Oak Street hill or moving it to another location. Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones said via email that all options will be considered and that they just want what’s best for the kids.

“The School Board has asked for proposals, and all proposals will be given a fair and thorough evaluation.  Since we really don’t know what will be presented, it’s too early to discuss preferences,” she said.

The plans for expansion come in the wake of the just-completed expansion of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, which added a total of 18 classrooms and moved the fifth grade to what is now a second through fifth grade facility.

Despite that capacity increase, officials say it still isn’t enough because the City’s school population continues to grow at an explosive rate that is the highest in the region. Officials say the school population is growing 6.1 percent this year, and has grown from 1,900 to more than 2,400 in the last seven years.

They project further growth of 559 students in the next three years, which would be a more than 50 percent increase above the 2007 level.

As a result, the TJ expansion isn’t sufficient. “Our greatest growth is coming into early childhood, which does put pressure on TJ classroom space,” Dr. Jones said.

In retrospect it is easy to say that the TJ addition should have been bigger. But officials already expanded it once — the original plan was to add 10 classrooms, but 15 full size and three smaller rooms were added — and Dr. Jones said they could not foresee what has been unprecedented growth in demand for the City’s schools.

“The growth we have seen over the last two years is unprecedented for us.  The enrollment projections have actually been very accurate, but the grade level that gives us the most challenge is kindergarten.  People are moving into the City to begin school at Mt. Daniel, and it is difficult to predict the migration rate of those moving into the City for the schools.”

The budget for the new and improved Mt. Daniel has been set at $15,000,000. Officials say they will consider proposals to renovate an existing building into a relocated Mt. Daniel, and also will consider such creative options as a site that includes “a non-school use compatible with the school.” It’s unclear what would be deemed compatible, although that could be a subject for community debate.

If a proposal for a relocated Mt. Daniel is selected, officials say ownership of the existing Mt. Daniel will be transferred to the winning bidder. The site is at the end of a residential cul-de-sac, and there would be no shortage of residential developers interested in building houses at the site if the school were to be no longer needed.

By
March 2, 2014 

Comments

6 Responses to “Officials Seek Proposals for Expanded and Possibly Relocated Mt. Daniel”

  1. Gordon Theisz on March 2nd, 2014 2:06 pm

    Retrospect isn’t the correct word. The growth may be unprecedented, but everyone knew the addition to TJ was a band aid, limited by the borrowing power of the state supported loan and the unwillingness of the school board at the time to bring a referendum to a vote for a more comprehensive (and expensive) addition and renovation. We had a plan in 2008 that was never implemented. Had we implemented it, while we wouldn’t have addressed the current explosive growth, we would have the momentum and plans in place that could be modified to deal with the growth. At least now the current school board is being more aggressive in addressing future needs.

  2. TFC on March 2nd, 2014 3:18 pm

    I agree Gordon and…replacing the HVAC at TJ is in the CIP! Something’s not right about spending the money on renovation/addition and leave the HVAC off the work list. Maybe seeking to avoid a referendum as you posit?
    I would *imagine* the cost to retrofit is quite a lot more than doing this at the time of construction.

  3. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on March 2nd, 2014 3:50 pm

    My understanding of the HVAC situation is that they knew at the time of the renovation that the system was nearing the end of its life but still had a few years left in it. Instead of replacing it early they had all the ductwork and related things done during the renovation. Now they’re requesting the funds needed to replace the unit. I don’t think this is an inefficient approach to the situation.

  4. TFC on March 2nd, 2014 3:55 pm

    Thanks Andy, if that’s the case I will rest easier about the topic

  5. Anonymous on March 2nd, 2014 5:23 pm

    A three story addition on the front side of TJ, where the trailers are currently, would do the trick. It would then be a 1000 student school but it could have two principals and it’s workable. Such a plan provides for better transitioning between grades for the kids as opposed to separate buildings. “Unusual and intimate” is true but should probably not be a decision making factor unless there is some proof it benefits the students, and I don’t think there is any evidence that splitting K-5 into two schools is a better model.

  6. Dale Walton on March 2nd, 2014 6:32 pm

    If there any significant , additional costs at least in the short term, then I suggest deferral. Unfortunately folks have deal with basically the current state. The citizens of this City are facing rising assessments which equate to higher taxes, the funding of a stormwater improvement enterprise fund, etc., etc. Let’s see how this upcoming budget negotation pans out….folks and especially some of these hardheads need to realize we can’t afford much beyond the essentials and some modest increases. How much can the average Joe be expected to pay? People who have lived here a long time are being driven out of the City and the homes they have lived in for a very long time because they simply can’t afford to stay here. You need to find some alternative sources of revenue or free up some contingency money. Wake up City officials!

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