2024-07-15 1:08 PM

GMHS Project Update Forum Part of a Busy School Month

FALLS CHURCH CITY MANAGER Wyatt Shields (center) engaged Derk Jeffrey (left) of the Stantec architectural firm during a break in last weekend’s forum updating the new high school project. Stantec’s Bill Bradley is at the right. (Photo: News-Press)

If you thought that school begins the day after Labor Day, think again. Try Thursday, or almost any day since the first of August through the end of this month.

Thursday, the George Mason High School Athletic Boosters Association and school officials are scheduled to hold a parents’ night for fall sports at the Mustang Cafe on the GMHS campus as football practices have begun and yesterday varsity and JV field hockey matches were scheduled to be held at the Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.

Volleyball, cross country and golf are due to get underway on Monday, and according to the school’s calendar, its varsity football team will be set to open its season next Thursday, Aug. 16, at home against Park View. What’s the rush?

A second varsity football game is also scheduled before classes begin, as well as three days for the senior photos that will presumably be in the school yearbook sometime in the spring.

Is this seemingly accelerated schedule related to the plans to demolish the existing high school plant and build an all new high school next July? But the demolition is not scheduled until after the end of the coming full school year and the campus will apparently remain untouched by the new school plans until then.

So, anyway, the more traditional new teacher orientation and the pre-school full teacher and staff convocation are slated for Aug. 20 and 28, respectively, still before Labor Day. But less than two weeks after classes commence on Sept. 4 the high school Homecoming Dance is set for Sept. 15. That kind of event normally happens some time in early November.

Off campus, a very busy schedule of events is slated as the process leading up to the first day of construction for the new high school begins next July 19. Last weekend, the public was given another review of that at a “Sunday series” update forum led by Superintendent Peter Noonan and representatives of the chosen design-build team, Jennifer Macks of Gilbane Building with Derk Jeffrey and Bill Bradley of Stantec and Quinn Evans, architects, at the Mason auditorium.

Bradley, an “education planning architect” for Stantec, made a compelling presentation on the rationales behind the proposed design of what he said will “not be your granddad’s, or even your, high school.”

The concept of “21st century learning,” he said, is “no longer one size fits all” for students, as in the earlier “industrial” model for learning. “There is a new profile of the prospective graduate,” he said, that benefits most from the breaking down of walls, permitting whole group, small group and combined instruction, transparency between places, eddy spaces, places for breakout sessions, learning commons and amphitheater-like stairs connecting floors.”

Classroom, labs and collaborative learning centers will all have access to natural light, and overall, the school will be “simple, flexible and secure.”

The design, Jeffrey said, will contrast the “airport terminal” look of the current high school with a vertical and elongated model with “modularity and flexibility” centered around a “heart of the school” organizing principle.

The design-build team met with Lieutenant Joe Carter of the Falls Church Police and Tom Polera, the City’s fire marshal, to review safety and security issues. They said a “hardened security vestibule” at the entrance to the new school will provide a “secure and welcoming arrival” with clear and open sight lines in the school, “academic zones that can be secured and isolated,” and “direct means to egress from each zone.”
Overall, the new school will be “warm, inviting and inspiring,” Jeffrey said.

An immediate task will be to form volunteer committees to work with the design-build team on many details of the design related to the areas of academics, athletics, fine and performing arts, community uses, sustainability and environmental factors and parking and transportation.
These volunteer teams will begin meeting by Sept. 6 and will be involved in a community presentation on Sept. 26. The final design, together with a guaranteed maximum price, is scheduled for May 19, 2019, prior to the commencement of construction on July 19.

Welcoming the audience to the meeting Sunday, Mayor David Tarter said, “It is amazing how far we’ve come in one year. This a a great, exciting project, it is really fabulous.”

City Manager Wyatt Shields added that there is an Aug. 29 deadline later this month for detailed responses of the three finalists for the 10-acre economic development component of the overall project, and added the news that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority authorized a grant of $15.7 million to supplement the overall project with transportation upgrades and improvements.







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