Falls Church’s veteran interim superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller stunned the F.C. School Board late Tuesday night with a new plan for a single-phase construction of a new George Mason High School with an estimated cost of almost half the current $117 million projection for a 1,500 student capacity school. Schiller carried forward logic he introduced at a joint F.C. City Council-School Board work session last week, and then at a City Council work session Monday night, by noting that removing or finding other ways to deal with non-essential elements of a new school construction plan could save millions in taxpayer dollars.
He noted that the current plan for a 303,989 square-foot school includes three gyms taking 98,210 square feet, space for a central office for the school system and an addition to Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. He indicated that all these components are not essential for the new high school, especially the fact that a proposed three gyms takes up almost a full third of the space for the school.
In the plan that Schiller presented to the board late Tuesday, a portion of the west end of the existing high school would be retained with renovations to include two gyms already there, with the newer west end class retained for a central office that could be separated off from the bulk of the new high school which could be built to 200,000 square feet. The Henderson Middle School addition would be delayed until it might actually be needed and the “competition gymnasium” would be the gym that taxpayers paid plenty for to have located in the lower level to the Henderson Middle School less than a decade ago. Why a new one?
The plan would free up eight acres or more for commercial development at the portion closest to the intersection of West Broad and Haycock that could commence with the completion of the new school in 2021.
Schiller said his new plan arose from the realization of the two main points that arose from last Saturday’s heavily-attended town hall on the subject of the new school. The first was the sense that a single phase construction of a new school was preferable to a two phase process, and to a mere renovation of the existing high school. The second was the concern for the cost. While the single phase new construction will open up as many as 10 acres for potentially dense commercial development that will eventually help pay for the school, the prevailing estimated $117 million price tag for the new school was daunting, especially given that voters will need to approve a bond referendum for the project this November.
So Schiller’s latest brain child, which came upon him in the wee hours Tuesday night, he said, could achieve both the single phase construction, with its commercial component, and at a significantly lower cost.