Local Commentary

Editorial: Eye-Popping School Design

The unveiling of the prospective design of the new George Mason High School at the Falls Church School Board meeting Tuesday night led folks in the room to become more and more excited as the virtual tour progressed under the two “tour guides” present from the bid-winning team of Gilbane Construction and Stantec/Quinn Evans Architects.

Indeed, the tour’s images and verbal descriptions were stunning and the City of Falls Church is clearly going to be remarkably proud and well-served by this project which, amazingly, may begin coming in ahead of schedule in the winter of 2021 before being fully completed by the fall of 2022. This assumes that the project will proceed apace for a groundbreaking upon the completion of the current school year next June. The effort will eventually result in the demolition of the current high school and the freeing up of 10.3 acres on the school campus site for dense economic development that will help pay for the school construction.

One caveat, mentioned at Monday night’s F.C. City Council work session, may be the impact of the U.S. federal administration’s tariff policies and what they could do, by way of foreign retaliation, to construction materials prices. This has some people very concerned for the world economy overall, but there is no measure by which to gauge the impact at this stage. So in the meantime, we will remain hopeful that wiser forces will prevail against the whims of the current presidential administration.

For City taxpayers, the high school project’s contract includes a guaranteed maximum price that will kick in at a threshold point when the project is 65 percent completed. The contract sets the construction cost at $108 million, considerably less than the $120 million that City voters overwhelmingly approved in a bond referendum vote last November.

Special features of the new design that especially impressed us include the integration of the project with the 10.3 acre commercial site that will be adjacent to it. Instead of trying to insulate the school from the commercial area, the design team plans for an integration through a transitional space that will be a “good friend zone” to welcome the wider community to an eastward-facing school entrance that will open immediately to a public-use related auditorium and competition gym.

The gym and outdoor athletic fields that will be positioned behind the main building are all designed to attract regional or statewide competitions beyond normal school athletic schedules.

The auditorium features an amazingly creative element that allows its back area to be available for multiple uses by making the seating in that area moveable when not in use, a brilliant space-saving feature.

The project aims to integrate the new high school with the fairly new Henderson Middle School, as well, beyond what was envisioned before. This will allow shared use of meal preparation facilities and much more.

We could go on and on. In short, we’re thrilled.