Local Commentary

Editorial: A State-of-the Art New High School

So now it is confirmed by a prospective developer that the construction of a new $100 million state-of-the-art George Mason High School, one that could be a model of modernity and immensely conducive to 21st century learning demands, can be built without costing Falls Church taxpayers a dime. The cost, say the Edgemoor/Clark team that has proposed to develop the entire site, can be entirely covered by the wider development of the 39 acres that was annexed by the City as part of the swap that conferred ownership of Falls Church’s water system to Fairfax County last year.

If anything, this new development is an effective further indicator of the prospects for the long-term superiority of the school system that Falls Church operates. This helps to ensure that property values will remain high in the City, because if anything, when news of this gets around, the impetus for families with young children to pile into the City, which is already significant. will be redoubled.

Two points need to be reiterated in this context: 1. more families and more kids are a good thing, not a bad thing, from every standpoint, including economic, and 2. the need for the City schools to have the means to be competitive with surrounding jurisdictions, especially Arlington, is now more urgent than ever.

If there is an Achilles heel in the economics of Falls Church today it is the lack of a “critical mass” of patrons to make local businesses successful. The best restaurants in town rely heavily on a clientele that comes in to Falls Church from outside areas. Those that have not developed a reputation to do that are struggling, as almost anyone who checks this out can see. Getting more customers for these businesses can best be done by growing the City’s own population, and there is plenty of room for that to grow.

The argument against population growth in the City, especially of families that include school aged children, is that they’re a net drag on the City’s revenues, costing more (including to educate) than they pay in taxes. But that is a very narrow, empiricist point of view that does not take into account notions like “critical mass” and “tipping point” factors that promise to be transformative in terms of the local economy.

One important component of this must be to provide more affordable housing, which need not involve government subsidized so-called “affordable housing,” but can be achieved with the construction of new housing projects that offer much smaller units in much higher quantities. This will serve to balance growth of families with children with growth of millennial singles and other lower income populations who will cost less and contribute more to the local economy.

But the point of all this will be defeated if the City Council fails to provide the schools with the needed resources to implement their game plan for improving their potential salary competitiveness with neighboring Arlington.