Students at overcrowded Bailey’s Elementary School soon have relief coming in an unorthodox package.
The county school system announced last Friday its purchase of a five-story office building on Leesburg Pike for $9.4 million. The building will be converted into an urban-design elementary school to serve the overflowing population at Bailey’s, which currently operates at 33 percent over capacity.
The vertical-plan school, the first of its kind in the county, will serve as a second campus for Bailey’s, likely housing students in grades three to five.
The county aims to see the new facility, open by next fall, according to School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At-large), bringing resolution to years worth of failed plans to ease overcrowding at the Falls Church school.
Bailey’s Elementary has the largest enrollment of any county elementary school, with 1,360 students enrolled as of November in a building meant to hold 1,020.
The school campus holds 19 trailers, and the library was cut in half this summer to make room for more classroom space. Child care and pre-kindergarten programs have been removed from the school to accommodate more students.
Previously, the school system had tried and failed to find workable plans. Discarded options included building a completely new elementary school in the Bailey’s area or adding classrooms to Woodrow Wilson Library, located next to the school.
Finally, this summer the School Board approved a plan to go after an office building at 6245 Leesburg Pike, located near Seven Corners Shopping Center and about 1.4 miles from the current Bailey’s campus.
After months of unsuccessful negotiations with the owner of the building, which has been vacant since September 2012, the school system successfully acquired the building last week.
The school administration purchased the building using $9.4 million in funds from the 2013 school bond referendum. The bond referendum, approved by voters in November’s election, included $20.8 million for this project.
But while plans to ease the overcrowding at Bailey’s are now underway, the elementary school’s struggles are part of a countywide struggle to address surging enrollment.
Entering this school year, student population in the county had increased by 3,000 from last year, and growth is projected to continue at this swift clip. In the next five years, enrollment is expected to reach close to 200,000 students.
Already, the 19 trailers at Bailey’s are among more than 900 in use across the county this school year, according to the school system’s 2015-19 Capital Improvement Program. The CIP, a blueprint of construction and renovation for the next five years, shows that 15 schools currently at least 15 percent over capacity. That total is projected to balloon to 39 schools by the 2018-19 school year.
“Even in the Bailey’s Crossroads area, capacity concerns exist beyond the capacity that will be made available by the elementary school funded in the 2013 bond referendum,” said Lee Ann Pender, the school system’s director of facilities planning services, in a presentation to the School Board on Dec. 19.
For example, of the four elementary schools bordering Bailey’s district, Glen Forest is already over capacity, and Belvedere is at its limit, according to the CIP, requiring the School Board to be open to more creative solutions such as the one it pursued for Bailey’s.
“As we meet with the community Board of Supervisors about this Capital Improvement Program, we need to show our desire to share the commitment to fix this issue,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District).