Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Watching a building being constructed is fascinating, as foundations are poured, bearing walls erected, and levels rise, one by one, to transform the community skyline. Likewise, when a building no longer serves its designated purpose, because of obsolescence or market changes, careful deconstruction, and recycling of the materials, slowly reverses the process and, unlike Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, not even the smile is left.

Four Fairfax County buildings, three of which were built in Mason District, are good examples of the options that can be considered for vacant or obsolete structures. The Massey Building was a 1960s creation that served as the county government center for three decades until a new government center campus was constructed a few miles west. Most county government offices were located at the Massey Building, and the Board of Supervisors met there, too. Facilities were pretty sparse; a former female Supervisor told me that there was one ladies’ restroom in the board area, to serve five female Supervisors, and female staff. It wasn’t today’s familiar stalls, but a single toilet fixture. The move west wasn’t because of the bathroom facilities, but potty parity would have been a great incentive!

The Massey Building then became the headquarters for Fairfax County police and fire departments, until a new public safety center was built on the government center campus earlier this decade. Implosion, while dramatic, was not an option, because of nearby structures, including the courthouse and the Adult Detention Center, as well as required asbestos remediation. The Massey Building has been disappearing slowly during the past couple of months, as materials are removed and recycled.
The old 1960s vintage office building at 5827 Columbia Pike similarly was removed during the past year, in preparation for development of the southeast quadrant of Bailey’s Crossroads. In the interim, a “pop up” park, with landscaping, play area, and programming space, will open soon. The yellow shade structures already are in place, providing a bright spot to define the temporary space.

Two other buildings have been repurposed, not dismantled. The former office building at 6245 Leesburg Pike was in foreclosure when the Fairfax County School Board obtained it to relieve overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. The building exterior maintains the previous skyline, but the interior, except for the corner elevator core, was completely rebuilt in just nine months, creating three levels of modern classrooms for third, fourth, and fifth graders at the renamed Bailey’s Upper Elementary School. An adjoining gymnasium was added later. Bailey’s Upper is the first urban style public school in Fairfax County, but not the last.

An exciting building repurposing is underway at 5600 Columbia Pike, where a vacant building, formerly occupied by defense contractors, is being transformed into live/work units. Ranging from 700 to 1000 square feet or so, each unit will feature full size kitchen appliances, laundry facilities, bathrooms, and sizable closets, in addition to living and bedroom space. Sliding pocket doors make the most of the open space concept, and the views from the upper floors are stunning. Common area amenity space includes conference areas, social gathering spots, even a pet washing area! The parking deck and familiar skyline are maintained, but new entrances and parklike landscaping add a pedestrian friendly vibe at this gateway to Fairfax County. The first units in the project are anticipated to be available this November.