Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences opened for the first time to students in grades 3-5 on Tuesday in a former office building on Leesburg Pike renovated by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for use as a learning facility. This project – converting an office building into a school building – is the first of its kind in the region and was born out of the necessity for FCPS to deal with the problem of overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences.
“We got a lot of feedback from our kids already. There were lots of smiles, cheers and lots of really excited comments like ‘very cool,’ or ‘awesome,’ from the students,” said Marie Lemmon, principal of both Bailey’s Elementary and Bailey’s Upper Elementary.
The two schools used to be housed in the same building on Knollwood Drive in the Culmore area but are now separated – grades pre-K-2 are in the Knollwood Drive building and grades 3-5 are in the new building.
When FCPS bought the office building in December 2013, over 1,300 children attended class in the Knollwood Drive building and 19 trailers on the property. The school was at 130 percent of its capacity, according to some estimates.
Now, 795 students in grades 3-5 will attend school in a 101,000 square foot building that cost the county almost $20 million, which was funded by the 2013 school bond referendum. According to a FCPS fact sheet, the school is 96 students below program capacity. All 19 of the trailers at the Knollwood Drive building have been removed.
“It’s an innovative solution, to be honest with you,” said Jeff Platenberg, the assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation services for FCPS.
“What really happened was that we applied the same metrics that we press for and wish for our students to attain through their K-12 experience – to be collaborative, caring and critical thinkers with communication skills. And by getting people to work together, we were able to get a really impressive, innovative solution.”
Lemmon and Platenberg both said that there was some risk and skepticism involved in the decision to house the part of Bailey’s Elementary in a five-story office building. But both also said that there has been a lot of positive feedback from faculty, staff, students and their parents and the community surrounding the new school.
“I think it was a little bit of a risk, but now it’s done. I think it’s so amazing and exciting,” Lemmon said. “And I think that the response has been so positive that a lot more schools might look like this in the future here in Fairfax and across the country.”