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Falls Church Community Demands CIP Shakeup

If FCHS community succeeds, other projects would move down the CIP queue

Fairfax County Public Schools proposed its Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2013 to 2017 last month, and at least one school community is riled up about the priority list.

Several members of the Falls Church High School community spoke to the Fairfax County School Board on Monday at the public hearing on the CIP, urging the board to consider FCHS a higher priority than currently listed.

In the plan released in December, the entire Falls Church High School pyramid has no new CIP-funded renovations or construction listed through 2017. In the final rankings, FCHS is listed at No. 45 of 63 schools named.

The five-year plan, which totals $848.5 million, includes new schools, capacity enhancements, renovations, additions and infrastructure management.

Dean Tistadt, FCPS' chief operating officer, said he sympathizes with the Falls Church community, but does not agree they should be moved up in the priority list and would take "umbrage" at the school board if such a decision is made.

"If somebody made the political decision to move Falls Church up, they'd be saying to all those other schools in the queue, we've arbitrarily, without any valid data, made a decision to change [it], which is why I don't think they're going to do it, frankly," Tistadt said.

At 96 percent capacity, FCHS is considered under capacity, especially when compared to high school communities like Oakton, Fairfax and South Lakes that stand at 113 percent, 127 percent and 139 percent capacity, respectively. Ten other high schools are at 100 percent capacity or more, with projections showing overcapacity issues to only worsen over the next five years. Projections show Falls Church will still be undercapacity in five years.

But students, parents and staff from Falls Church would say capacity is an unfair measurement by which to prioritize projects, saying the unsafe conditions of the school cause parents to pull their children from FCHS to attend a different school.

"I originally attended Bishop O'Connell. My parents paid $11,000 every year just so I could avoid going to Falls Church," John Mai, now a senior at Falls Church High, said at Monday's public hearing. "Why? Because there's a negative connotation of Falls Church."

But Tistadt said enrollment alone does not decide the renovation queue. The conditions of the schools coupled with enrollment are the major factors.

"Some people had the erroneous perception that other schools higher than Falls Church were in better shape and Falls Church dropped down lower than them because of the enrollment," Tistadt said. "I don't believe that to be true."

He argued that each of the 44 schools ahead of FCHS are in just as much need of renovations.

"What you didn't hear last night is a single person who had visited all the schools in the queue and said they had personally witnessed that they were in better shape than Falls Church," Tistadt said. "If you look at all the other schools ahead of them in the queue, I would submit to you that a visit to them would see substandard conditions at all of them."

Falls Church community members detailed the conditions of the school in their speeches to the school board Monday, listing insect infestations, holes in the ceilings, out-of-date power supplies for technology, unhealthy restrooms, unsafe science labs, dangling light fixtures and heating/cooling issues.

"I have no argument whatsoever that the building is in bad shape and needs to be renovated. But that's true of every single school in that queue," Tistadt said. "But it's not unsafe. If they have safety or health concerns, they bring them to our attention and we address them immediately. We don't sit there and say we're going to accept unsafe or unhealthy conditions because the school isn't ready for renovation."

A school board work session about the CIP is scheduled for Jan. 23, with action scheduled for Jan. 26.

KH January 11, 2012 at 12:39 AM
It doesn't surprise me that he is defending their CIP rating system. Did he hear that the whole ranking system is flawed as many speakers pointed out last night? Get ready to take "umbrage", Mr. Tisdadt. The new School Board listened and wil make changes. BTW - thanks to Jack Dale for paying such close attention last night, too. Head down on his Blackberry. May as well have had earplugs in, too.
Grace Cassidy January 11, 2012 at 03:30 AM
The reason Falls Church would move up in the queue is because the data is flawed and needs a common sense adjustment. The idea that a building can forgo renovation for 57 years (1967-2024) is proof that the data is flawed and its associated results preposterous. FCHS is long past due for a renovation.
Mozart January 12, 2012 at 10:36 PM
This article suggests that other schools are 113-139% overcapacity now - I believe these are projections several years out (and FCPS doesn't have a stellar record when it comes to the accuracy of its projections). I don't have a view as to exactly where FCHS should stand in the queue, but the notion that capacity issues could be used to prioritize renovation projects seems almost self-defeating. As I understand it, one of the reasons why FCHS's enrollment is low is that people don't want to send their kids to a school that is in poor physical condition. Of course, some people say that Langley is in poor condition as well, but at least Langley got an expensive new addition a few years ago, demonstrating that the school wasn't entirely off the School Board's radar screen.
Amelie Krikorian January 13, 2012 at 02:26 AM
There are problems all over the county in the schools. I work at a special ed center that has special ed classrooms with no handicapped bathrooms, and no handicapped accessible equipment on the playground. The trailer I am in is 60 degrees inside when we arrive in the morning even with all the heat left on overnight and none of the trailers have smoke detectors. Students are being taught in windowless rooms that have been shaved off of workrooms with partitions. In many schools, art is being taught from a wheeled cart because there is no longer an art classroom -- meaning that every project must be completed in a single art class, because there is no place to store works in progress. In other schools, music and band are taught on the cafeteria stage while lunch is going on. This is the price you pay when for years Richmond funnels Fairfax tax dollars into other areas of Virginia and fails to fund even basic upkeep of buildings in our county. Did you know that almost every other county in Virginia provides either iPads or laptops to their students to use at home? We can't even get a single iPad provided by the county for our classroom.
Jonathan Erickson January 13, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Do you have books? Then try using them instead of iPads!

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