Major Planning & Decisions Loom for F.C. West End Project This Summer

FALLS CHURCH PLANNING consultant Susan Bell briefed the F.C. City Council on a proposed rezoning ordinance for the West End Development project to designate it as “a special revitalization district for education and economic development.” (Photo: News-Press)

It may be the lazy days of summer for many of us, but not for the Falls Church City Council and School Board and those who are bidding to build a new high school or economically develop 10.3 acres on the City of Falls Church West End, as big planning efforts and decisions loom in the coming days and weeks to keep the massive project on schedule.

This Friday, in fact, the special team appointed to evaluate and select the final design-build team that will work with the School Board to construct a new George Mason High School will conduct extensive interviews with the two finalists.

The two finalist teams that the evaluation team will be selecting from are David Smoot with Perkins Eastman, and Gilbane, Stantec and Quinn Evans. The evaluation team down-selected from five bidders in the end of February to three, and then to this two.

The evaluation team, it is hoped, will reach a significant consensus by the end of the day Friday to make its final choice, although the public, with the exception of a few hints that Superintendent Peter Noonan may signal concerning design concepts in the meantime, will not be informed of that final choice until the F.C. School Board meeting of July 17.

At that meeting, the School Board will vote to ratify the recommendation of the committee, which will include the terms of a contract crafted after this Friday, and the City Council will vote to do the same the following week on July 23.

Engaged in the selection process will be F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields, Councilman Dan Sze, Planning Commission chair Russ Wodiska, School Board members Justin Castillo and Erin Gill, the Schools’ legal counsel Patricia Minson along with consultants from Brailsford and Dunleavy and the City’s procurement officer Jim Wise.

After the mid-July meetings of the School Board and City Council, the public will have the first opportunity to meet the chosen partners at a public forum on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 5.

At that forum, the plan is to have the public engage in a deliberative process by breaking down into a half-dozen small groups to tackle specific issues pertaining to environmental factors, athletics,, music and the arts, instruction, community uses, parking and transportation. Already, 50 citizens have signed up to be part of that deliberative process.

“We’re on a really good path toward hitting our marks,” Noonan told the Campus Coordinating Committee group at its meeting early last Friday morning. “I am excited where we are.”

Meanwhile, as Shields reported at that same meeting, the process will move ahead for the selection of the team to work on the 10.3 acres of economic development at the site. Three finalists, down from an original six applicants, are Comstock, EYA and Rushmark.

They’ve been provided with copies of a request for detailed proposal document that they are due to respond to by Aug. 22, and the evaluation group that chose the three finalists in this effort will be tasked again with making a final choice by mid-October at the latest.

As to whether or not there will be any public presentations by the three finalists prior to the final choice being made, “We’re going to need to think this through,” Shields said at the coordinating group meeting last Friday. “Purchasing agents say it is a terrible idea.”

On a parallel track, the Council will have to make its final decision on a proposed zoning change that will designate the entire project area as “a special revitalization district for education and economic development to provide flexibility and guide development.”

Following an extensive briefing by planning consultant Susan Bell at the City Council’s meeting this Monday, the Council gave a preliminary OK to the idea by a unanimous vote, will consider reactions that will come from volunteer boards and commissions at a work session on Aug. 4, and coming back for a final OK vote on Aug. 11.

That’s going to introduce some real crunch factors for the three finalist bidders if the Council makes any significant changes to the zoning revision at that Aug. 11 meeting, because the developers will have only 11 days before their final bids will be due.