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F.C. School Board Seeks GMHS Feasibility Study

The decision by the Falls Church School Board Tuesday night to seek a feasibility study in advance of issuing a “request for proposal” for construction of a new George Mason High School is set to be shared with the “Campus Project Working Group” at its weekly meeting early Thursday.

The draft to seek a feasibility study was being prepared by Interim Superintendent Robert Schiller, who advised the School Board Tuesday that such a feasibility study “would add confidence in the viability of a solution with a conceptual design of what might work.”

Acting board chair Phil Reitinger added that the approach would “add to transparency” of the process before a “request for proposal” for construction might be issued which would be more guarded, especially if there are more than one respondent.

The three facets of the project involve a single-step construction of a new high school building, with a variant being the retention of the newest A wing of the existing building to provide ongoing use of the two gyms and the cafeteria area there and the added variant being the projected cost.

Variables will include whether needs for a new competition gym, an auditorium of a certain size (750 capacity with options to expand), a school sized for 1,200 students with a common space area that can permit an enrollment expansion to 1,500, a 20,000 foot addition to the Henderson Middle School, and parking can be accommodated or not. The board agreed that plans for a 12,000 square foot school system administration office should not be included.

With an eye to cost, “We’ve got to lose all the unessentials,” Reitinger said.

Schiller, who came out of retirement to accept this interim position based on his extensive experience with such projects around the U.S., said the focus must be on the “program needs for the school of the future with flexibility and adaptability,” and that a feasibility study will help to establish “what our limitations are” so that a “very tight up front [request for proposal] can be crafted for a potential developer.”

Schiller said he’s worked in large districts growing so fast that only “cookie cutter” designs could be allowed, but in this case, it is a “customized approach” that is called for, and some design features ought to be included in the language for a bond referendum this fall.

During the petition period prior to the board discussion, Tom Johnson, president of the George Mason High School Athletic Boosters, spoke again on the need for the competition gym, two auxiliary gyms and other athletic program needs. He criticized what he called an “academic versus athletic construct” that he said has developed. Two others spoke for the athletic facilities, Maria Marcus spoke on behalf of funding the Band Boosters, and Alice Brown on behalf of the ESOL program needs and retaining small class sizes. Allison Kutchma spoke on her perceived need for an outside audit.