With so much attention rightfully being paid to the imminent commencement of the $120 million construction of a brand new, state of the art George Mason High School, other important changes in the Falls Church City Public Schools that are bringing savings to taxpayers are also in the works.
They are considerable, and are in two areas. First, the School Board-approved budget for the coming fiscal year came, for the first time in more than a decade, within the two-percent growth guidance provided by the City Council last fall. And, with the news last month that new revenues to the City will be higher than originally projected, the board voted to deploy the additional $200,000 coming as a result into reserves to hire new staff in the event enrollment numbers in the fall are higher than currently projected.
Second, the School Board is moving its central office into new digs this June with its 10-year lease on its current location expiring. The new location, in a building at 150 S. Washington Street, comes with a substantial savings, no less than $1.5 million over 10 years, according to Superintendent Peter Noonan.
Improvements to the new space — new carpeting, light fixtures, paint — are now being made, and the move is scheduled for the final week of June, after the school year has ended and the groundbreaking on the new high school project will have occurred.
The move, from the board’s current 800 W. Broad location where it has been based for the last decade, will not only result in significant savings over the long haul, but will be making a huge difference in the first year coming up.
That’s because an incentive offered by the building owners, Atlantic Realty, was to provide one free month a year for the 10 year term of the lease, and all 10 free months will be applied to the first year.
The savings are identified in the School Board budget in the category of “logistical savings,” and, again, helped the School Board keep its budget within Council guidance.
“I’m excited by this move,” Noonan told the News-Press, “We will be moving into a smaller space (7,500 square feet instead of 10,000, Noonan said) but we’ve planned out where everything will go and we’ll be ready to go the minute we move in.”
(Meanwhile, Bob Young, the owner of the “Flower Building” that the School Board will be vacating, and chair of the City’s Economic Development Authority, has said there’s been a surprising interest in the commercial office space, once it becomes available, in his building).
The Atlantic Realty owners of the new School Board location also own the adjacent Mason Square building at the southwest corner of W. Broad and S. Washington (above the popular Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant), and according to News-Press sources may still be planning to revive a version of the massive $315 million “City Center Plan” that was approved a decade ago and went into hibernation when the Great Recession hit.
The Schools face a daunting schedule of deadlines in the coming 90 days before the shovels begin going into the ground at the high school site. After this Sunday’s town hall meeting update at the Community Center (at 2 p.m.), the design and development plans are continuing to be reconciled, Noonan said, with the target of May 15 for the signing of the first of two “guaranteed maximum price” (GMP) contracts with the developers.
The May 15 deadline has been moved up two weeks from an original May 1 date, and Noonan said that was decided to enable the City to sign a comprehensive agreement for the 10.3 acre West End Gateway economic development project on May 13.
The first school GMP contract will subsume the acquisition of the big cost items in the construction, including the steel and concrete for the project, and there is a concern for buying these commodities sooner rather than later due to the impending new tariff impacts on their cost.
While the campus awaits its transformation, the existing high school footprint will not be altered until the new school is built next to it on the site, with the completion date a year-and-a-half ahead, in December 2021. The official groundbreaking event marking the onset of that effort is set for mid-June, just after the school year ends.
In addition to the existing high school footprint, the football/soccer and baseball fields will also not be touched by the construction, except, that is, for work on the baseball field to fix a flooding issue that has impacted the visiting team dugout, and will be corrected over Spring Break next month.
A meeting of Mason Athletic Boosters with the school’s athletic director, Julie Bravin, and director of facilities, Seve Padilla, was held this Monday to address that problem and also minor fixes to the concession stand, with the idea that long-term improvements to the field will be taken up at coming meetings.
Plans are also to go ahead with the City’s annual fireworks show at the campus stadium on July 4.