Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C.’s History of School Bond Support

The banner headline on the front page of the 11th-ever edition of the Falls Church News-Press on June 6, 1991 reflected a more sensationalistic approach we favored at that point. It was simply, “Landslide!” in bold capital letters, and below was the sub-head, “62 Percent Vote Yes for School Bonds.”

The report of that successful school bond referendum for a whopping (so it seemed at the time) $12.8 million for the first-ever major renovation of George Mason High School was the first of what has been an unbroken succession of Falls Church voter approvals of funds for the City’s schools and critical public infrastructure upgrades, such as the library.

As F.C. School Superintendent Peter Noonan documented in a timeline of school related events last month, that vote came after an original bond in 1949 was approved by voters in the new independent City of Falls Church for $700,000 to buy 25 acres at Haycock and Leesburg for $40,000 and construction of a new high school for 325 students. George Mason High School first opened its doors for grades 6 through 12 in 1952, being immediately overcrowded. Then in 1957 the City Council rejected a school board request for a bond issue to expand the high school and removed the pro-bond School Board members (being appointed by the Council at the time) and appointed ones who eliminated 12 school positions and proposed to house children in quonset huts instead of new permanent buildings.

Gradually, the high school was expanded bit-by-bit. In 1953, adjacent land was rented which citizens cleared for a temporary athletic field, and permanent football, tennis and track facilities were added in the 1960s, new classrooms, a small activity gym, shower and locker rooms, library and administrative spaces were added in 1962, a new auditorium and vocational classrooms opened in 1969, the current library in 1973 and elevators, ramps and accessible classrooms, a new HVAC, sound insulation and lighting improvements were added in 1979.

Then came the approval of the aforementioned school bond referendum in June 1991 and the completion of what became a $14.9 million GMHS renovation in May 1995.

Another school bond referendum was passed in November 2003 to construct a new Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, which opened in 2005.

So, the current phase aiming at voting this November on a $120 million bond referendum began with the voters’ decision in 2013 to swap the City’s beleaguered water system for the annexation into the City boundaries of the 35-acre campus site. An uneven process has unfolded with good decisions and transparent processes to bring us to within three months of the upcoming referendum.

As in 1991, when the News-Press jumped into the City’s timeline to enthusiastically support the bond referendum then, and the one in 2003, we are committed once again to advocating for the benefits of a combination of quality schools and economic development to pay for them.