Local Commentary

Editorial: City & Schools Need The Public’s Input

We join the chorus of everyone in the City of Falls Church government and schools urging a robust Falls Church citizen attendance at Saturday morning’s town hall meeting on the progress toward a final plan for the 39-acre high school property at the west end of the City. At this stage, after many hours of deliberations, the groups have divided the options into about three, with variables in each.

The first is a mere renovation of the existing footprint, with the addition of more trailers to house classrooms (the cheapest option), or a more expensive plan that couples a renovation with 100,000 square feet of a new classroom building. There is a phased option which calculates out as the most expensive one, though phased, and there is one for a new high school in one fell swoop, which appears pricey at first (at $117 million), but which can go down below $100,000 if only the high school and not ancillary uses is built. This approach proposed by interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller is a very level headed one, especially because it will include the ability for the maximum economic development on the site once the new school is completed.

This Saturday, the public will get information on all the options, and then weigh in with its thoughts. The key decisions, of course, will remain with the Council and School Board, which will work to craft language for the bond referendum that will go on this November’s ballot to seek citizen approval.
Of course, nobody wants to commit too many tax dollars to anything these days, (especially with the voter-approved renovation of the library and expansion of City Hall coming soon).

But the most remarkable feature of the high school project is the potential for an enormous yield in sale and tax dollars from the dense economic development of up to 10 of the acres. Handled right, this could mitigate the impact of the cost of the new school to an enormous degree.

As there are no really hard numbers about what economic development could bring, it is our view that now is the time to put out a “request for proposal” (RFP) to commercial developers for just that part of the project.

Among other things, it is assumed so far that the economic development would be most lucrative at the area nearest the Haycock and W. Broad intersection. But that may not be what a developer thinks. He or she might like the current football field better for its greater proximity to the West Falls Church Metro station.

Let’s let the developers tell the project developers what they think could work best there. Our view has always been to cut a deal with WMATA for some of its surface parking space there and couple it with 10 acres at that end of the school property to put something really big and dense right at the Metro station itself.