Local Commentary

Editorial: New High School Closer to Reality

In what seems like no time at all, the momentum toward a reasonably-priced, high quality and community-supported new high school project has escalated, raising hopes that there may be time to craft referendum language for this November’s election. We urge the relevant persons at City Hall and school headquarters to jump into the process, which has already been years in the making, and not stall or delay it.

The fresh insights of interim F.C. Public School System Superintendent Robert Schiller (see Page 1 this edition), derived from his lengthy career as the superintendent of four school districts and two state school districts, including as the CEO and CRO of the 1997 reorganization of the Baltimore School System and a period heading the City of Los Angeles School System with its 729,000 students, have broken a logjam of option paralysis to create the basis for a definitive pathway forward.

Schiller did not do this in a vacuum. The persistent efforts of the City Council and School Board since the 39 acres on which George Mason High and Henderson Middle School now sit were conveyed into the City in January 2014, brought the process to this point, including boiling down options to three for presentation to one of the largest town hall meetings of citizens in Falls Church history just last Saturday.

All that provided the context for Schiller to bring his unique contribution to bear. This Tuesday night, he shared his vision with the School Board: namely, an all new high school for $60-$70 million, way below the cost estimate of $117 million that had become accepted in deliberations to that point.

He shared his experiences of school boards seeking to build new schools with the passage of bond referendums, and how often they failed because too many non-essential add-ons drove up the price to taxpayers.

Falls Church’s has been a classic case of that. For one thing, there’s the inclusion of three new gyms, including a competition gym, in the plans for a new high school. As Schiller pointed out, the square footage of all those prospective gyms added up to almost a full third of the total 300,000 square foot space contemplated.

Advocates of a competition gym persuaded F.C. voters to include one in the new Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School on the same campus that was completed in September 2005 and has served in its capacity well the past decade. It is unfathomable in our view that taxpayers should be asked for yet another new one now.

So Schiller has come up with a way to add no new gyms by keeping the three that already exist. A brilliant stroke.

Finally, our idea: economic development on up to 10 acres on the site could begin right away if developers choose an option to build right away on the site of the football/soccer field, rather than waiting four years for the demolition of the old school.