Projections from the Weldon-Cooper firm show that enrollment in the Falls Church City Public Schools will almost double from 2,065 students this fall to 3,915 by the year 2032, the Falls Church School Board was told at its meeting Tuesday night. With a capacity of 750 now, George Mason High School enrollment is projected to soar above 1,000 by 2021, and even with its expansion and renovation now scheduled to begin this summer, Mt. Daniel Elementary School will hit its “hard enrollment cap” also by 2021.
The data formed the backdrop for the joint meeting of the Falls Church City Council and School Board in a work session at the School Board’s offices to mull the next moves on how to develop the City’s West End annexation of 39 acres which are home to George Mason High presently.
The two groups with their 14 members decided to create a working group of two members from each to work with the City’s Link Strategic Partners consultants in hopes of meeting an accelerated schedule of planning for decisions on the land by next spring that will be ready for a public referendum to bond for a new and/or renovated Mason High by November 2017.
What has made the discussions of the two groups so difficult to date, School Board chair Justin Castillo observed Tuesday night, is the fact that “we have needs that are not affordable.” This is the cause of considerable “heartburn,” he said.
Basic questions about what scale of renovation or expansion of the high school should be sought, and the role of commercial development, and where, on the 11 acres that, according to the terms of the acquisition of the land, along with involving adjacent entities, such as WMATA and the University of Virginia/Virginia Tech, all need to be sorted out. While the small working group will meet weekly, its first task will be to prepare for the next meeting of the full membership of both groups slated for Nov. 18.
The proverbial “elephant in the room” during the discussion Tuesday was the bold proposal made by Falls Church developer Todd Hitt of Kidder Capital, builder of the new 301 W. Broad (Harris Teeter) project, who in an exclusive interview with the News-Press last month set out a vision for commercial development at the West End that could be bigger than the Mosaic that has gone up in Merrifield.
Perhaps indirect, obtuse references were made by Mayor Tarter and Castillo, but no explicit comment was made.
In Tuesday’s meeting during the discussion of projected enrollment growth, F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones noted that new residential mixed-use projects coming on line and in the pipeline will be drivers for growth, along with the fact that 1.000 single family homes in the City have land values higher than current building values such that they’re prime candidates for rebuilding larger homes.