Falls Church School Board Prefers All-New H.S. Option at $110M Cost

NEW FALLS CHURCH SCHOOL Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan (second from right) attended his first official Falls Church School Board meeting Tuesday night, a work session to mull options for the proposed new high school. (Photo: News-Press)

The Falls Church School Board will bring to a joint meeting with the F.C. City Council next Monday night a preference for an all-new high school at a cost of $110 million to go onto the 36-acre campus site. They unanimously expressed their preference for the option among five total choices presented by consultants Perkins Eastman at Tuesday┬ánight’s lengthy School Board work session, officially the first public School Board meeting for new Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan.

The cost estimates by the consultants were significantly higher than all earlier projections, with the worry that costs will only continue to rise the longer the project is delayed. The only two cheaper options were for two variants of a mix of renovations to the existing school and new construction that came in at $103 million, a far cry from earlier estimates that had it at $70-$80 million. The renovation options did not include a competition gym which if added later would be at a cost of $15 million more, the consultants said.

“The market is now hot, and there are construction labor shortages which are driving costs up,” one of the consultants said. They proposed that the only real way to mitigate the costs of a new high school will be through economic returns from the development of the rest of the property in question. That was one of the reasons the School Board was strongly in favor of what was branded Community School Option 1, which leaves a full 10 acres available for mixed-use economic development.

(One of the shortcomings of the presentation Tuesday┬ánight was the consultants’ assumption that the acreage for commercial development would be at the corner of W. Broad and Haycock Road. A presentation by the consultants retained to spearhead the economic development of the property said last Friday that it should not be predetermined that that location be where the commercial development will go, as it should be left up to prospective developers to make that call. The site is very near the West Falls Church Metro station, for example, proximity to which may be more desirable to a developer.)

The all-new high school options came in at $110 million for the version the board preferred, to $119 million each for two other versions. The hybrid renovation and new development versions both came in at $103 million, each without a competition gym.

Three members of the Falls Church City Council sat through the lengthy presentation of options, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, Letty Hardi and Karen Oliver. Connelly told the News-Press at the conclusion of the discussion that the School Board’s choice came back to what was being discussed in the first place three years ago, but that all the deliberations in the meantime have been useful to help better establish the basis for that choice.