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F.C. Council ‘Holds Noses’ to Add $2 Million More to Mt. Daniel Expansion

F.C. SCHOOLS' INTERIM Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller made a passionate case for a new $2 million allocation by the F.C. City Council to cover the added change-order costs of the Mt. Daniel expansion and renovation to begin in June. The Council voted 6-0 to comply with his submission. (Photo: News-Press)
F.C. SCHOOLS’ INTERIM Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller made a passionate case for a new $2 million allocation by the F.C. City Council to cover the added change-order costs of the Mt. Daniel expansion and renovation to begin in June. The Council voted 6-0 to comply with his submission. (Photo: News-Press)

Following the forceful recommendation of the Falls Church Public Schools’ Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller to “hold your nose and vote yes for this,” the Falls Church City Council voted unanimously Monday (David Snyder absent) 6-0 to approve a supplemental allocation of $2,143,000 to cover the increased cost of a renovation and expansion of Mt. Daniel Elementary School to begin when school lets out in June.

Schiller cautioned the Council that contracts for subcontractors on the $15 million project are due to expire the end of this week, precluding desires by some on the Council to postpone action further.

It was reported that since first the bids for the work were opened in February, revealing that costs had ballooned over $2.5 million above earlier projections, the Schools worked with the contractor, Grunley Construction, to shave $510,000 off that increase, lowering the amount of new money needed to just over $2 million.

So, the project will now proceed to provide an additional 58,218 square feet to Mt. Daniel, increasing its student capacity from 275 currently (without temporary trailers) to 660.

But the other shoe that dropped at Monday’s Council meeting was the revelation that in order to meet enrollment growth expectations over the next decade, in addition to already identified expansions of the middle and high school, another roughly $10-12 million will be required for a further expansion of Thomas Jefferson Elementary, now serving grades 2 to 5. The current enrollment there is 832, nine above its present capacity even with trailers.

Schiller announced the School Board authorized him to proceed to obtain an architectural feasibility report due May 17 to add 18 new classrooms at the current TJ site to meet enrollment growth projections for the next 15 years.

The latest iteration of School Board plans involve keeping Mt. Daniel serving kindergarten and first grade, with the addition of preschool from the Thackrey School site, and relocating the School Board’s central office to the Thackrey site, saving $365,000 annually that is expended in the current lease, expiring June 2019, on a public site. Grades 2 to 5 will remain at TJ.

None of this touches on the work being done to expand Mary Ellen Henderson and build a new George Mason High School on the west end school property, although all the pieces of the puzzle are interrelated, as was pointed out Monday night. Progress continues toward firm proposals for those schools this spring, with the economic development group for the campus site scheduled to meet early Friday morning.

Of the $2.143 million voted up Monday, $901,818 will be transferred from two School-related CIP projects, $235,000 from the School Board operating budget and $1,006,082 through the appropriation of new funds

As for Thomas Jefferson, even with the recent years’ expansion, the current enrollment is already above capacity and that enrollment will remain with the decision to keep the second grade at its present location.

In a report presented to the City Council by the School Board Monday, current TJ enrollment is 832, while the school’s capacity is 678 without trailers, and 823 with them.

Projected enrollment will balloon to 1,068 by 2032, rising steadily every year.

A total of 18 new classrooms there are needed, including 10 above the seven needed to accommodate the 145 students currently housed in trailers. One new classroom is needed to free up additional space for the library, and an expansion of the cafeteria and additional playground and parking space are needed.

All 18 new classrooms would need to be built on the spot where the trailers now are, because that’s the only area on the TJ property that is not in the floodplain for Tripps Run creek that empties into Four Mile Run and eventually goes to the Chesapeake Bay.

Occupancy of the TJ expansion could occur in the 2019-2020 time frame after 15 months of construction, according to the School Board report. More certain numbers will be available when the architectural feasibility report is received on May 17.