Final Conceptual Design of New High School Set Friday

A large turnout at Sunday’s town hall meeting on the new high school and West End development projects heard of important new development on the high school plan. (Photo: News-Press)

The final submission of extravagant design documents for the construction of a new George Mason High School is scheduled to be provided Friday, the next big benchmark development for the $120 million project that is scheduled to begin as soon as classes let out from the current school site in mid-June. The first shovel in the ground is expected on June 15, with the projected completion date being December 2020.

Over 60 citizens attending a town hall at the F.C. Community Center on Sunday were provided the latest version of the new school design by the project’s chief architect, Derk Jeffrey of Quinn Evans, who said the latest iteration marked a significant set of improvements since the earlier draft designs were first presented to the public for review last summer.

“A lot of the changes have been based on the feedback loop from many community stakeholders,” F.C. School Superintendent Peter Noonan said introducing Sunday’s presentation, showing a long list in two columns on a powerpoint screen, including parents, students, faculty, City staff, consultants, specialists and the general public.

“There have been over 100 meetings,” Noonan said, in the time since the November 2017 bond referendum passed to set the process in motion. “We’re in a much stronger place now for a building that will last for the next 50 years.” He said the building will include space for collaboration with other institutions, the community and in ways to optimize the system’s International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

“The voice of the City has been heard” in the improvements to the plan, Jeffrey said, “and we’re right on schedule.”

The modifications he presented Sunday include the addition of a “Mustang Way” pathway connecting parking adjacent Route 7 and at an elevated parking garage through the new campus to the football/soccer stadium. Overall, now there will be 400 parking spaces available, 213 adjacent Route 7 and 187 in the garage.

There will be 200 new trees, and no school bus parking on the site, and added buffers between the school and the adjacent 10.3 acre economic development site that include a newly-added “grove” where all the donated brick pavers from the current high school will be placed.

There will be a newly-designed car loop at the west end of an east-west so-called Street A that will lead from Haycock Road through the economic development site to where cars, including cabs, Uber or Lyft cars, can drop off students and loop back to leave without disrupting other traffic. There would be a light at the east edge of Street A on Haycock.

New design of the auditorium will have an expanded capacity of 650 seats (including 50 moveable ones), more than the current auditorium’s 499 seat capacity, two cat walks and a rear projection capacity. There will also be a small “black box” theater and ample storage and preparation areas.

The entry to the school will have Level 4 ballistic glass for security purposes, and the “heart of the school” down its center will be “simple and light,” with a second floor cafe adjacent the cafeteria and a hydroponic display.

The library will hold 15,000 volumes, and there will be a “learning stair” leading to an “innovation commons” and a “genius bar” help desk for fixing student computer problems.

A counseling suite will be on the third floor, and there will be included gender-neutral toilet rooms on the third and fourth floors consisting of 10 sight-proof rooms.

There are two gyms in the new school design, including a 94-foot full-sized gym with an audience capacity of 1,500 (compared to 600 in the current gym used at the Henderson Middle School) qualified to host regional post-season playoff tournaments. A small but large enough to qualify for Virginia High School League competition second gym will have a capacity of 400.

There will be two tunnels from the lower level of the new building leading out to the stadium, which will not change.

There will be a vegetative roof, and no mechanical systems will be on any of the roof spaces of the new building, so that photovoltaic arrays can be placed there, with the goal being, with the inclusion of a geothermal system, that the entire campus become “net zero” in terms of energy consumption.
The building will have a capacity of 1,500 in its present form, capable of considerable internal expansion for the creation of an additional 10 classrooms.

Security components of the new school have been submitted for presentation at the Architects for Learning Environments conference in Austin, Texas, next week for the elements applied to vertical structures, including lockdown and evacuation components, including two high-capacity lifts used for moving equipment and capable of moving high numbers of students.

Noonan said he is excited by the prospect the new campus will provide for partnerships with other educational institutions, including with the expected expansion of Virginia Tech next door, and potential links to the projected Amazon HQ2 site in Arlington and the Virginia Tech campus adjacent it, described as an “innovation center” with different projects on each of six different floors,” Noonan said.

“We hope to access and leverage each other’s strengths, including Mason High’s IB, robotics and environmental sustainability programs.

While the new building will be completed for occupancy by December 2020, the completion of the entire project is slated for June 2021.