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Four-story Dunn Loring Elementary School gets edge over shorter design option

Community members who attended a public meeting on the future elementary school in Dunn Loring last week appeared to favor replacing the existing administrative center at 2334 Gallows Road with a four-story building.

Samaha Associates, an engineering firm contracted by Fairfax County Public Schools, presented two primary design options for the planned school, which is expected to be 118,000 square feet in size with the goal of addressing crowding in the Tysons area.

One proposal would shift the school further away from Gallows Road onto what’s currently Murphy Field, a popular facility for local youth soccer groups. The building would be mostly two stories tall with a third story of classrooms on the west side.

The site would have room for an athletic field by Gallows Road as well as playgrounds, a play area, and an outdoor classroom, but they would be scattered around the property.

Slated to begin in spring 2024, construction could start sooner with this option, since the Dunn Loring Center building wouldn’t have to be completely demolished first, Samaha principal Tom Lee said at the meeting on Thursday (Nov. 10).

“More importantly, we’re able to get three site entrances off of Idylwood [Road], one aligning with Greenbriar Way and then two more for the bus loop, so you see a complete and independent separation between the kiss-and-ride traffic and the bus traffic with parking on both sides,” he said.

The other option would construct a four-story building in the existing Dunn Loring Center footprint with play areas consolidated to the west, away from Gallows.

Both options eliminate the site’s current entrance off of Gallows, but the four-story one would have a longer kiss-and-ride queue that could accommodate about 50 vehicles compared to the 30 spaces in the other design. However, drivers would have to go back out the way they came in when buses are using the loop at the front entrance.

Most attendees expressed support for the four-story design, in part because it keeps the athletic field away from Gallows Road and has a smaller footprint, likely allowing more trees to be retained, though a full tree survey hasn’t been conducted yet.

“That field that’s currently there is used all the time, some of the only good green space in the area, and to replace it with fields that are right on Gallows Road and have kids playing at one of the busiest intersections in the area, I think, is a terrible idea,” one man said to applause. “…I think it really shifts the burden of this school on all the people who live there.”

Lee noted that a four-story building would be “slightly more expensive” to construct. The project has a $36.8 million budget covered by bond funds that were originally earmarked for a school in the Oakton area.

The design also leaves no room for an expansion, but the school would be constructed with an internal “shell” on the fourth floor that could fit three to four more classrooms “as the need arises,” Lee said.

Samaha had suggested a third option to a Design Feedback and Engagement Committee that met on June 9, but it retained an entrance on Gallows for a limited kiss-and-ride lot, leading to concerns about traffic back-ups. That design has now been taken off the table.

In response to a resident who said turning right onto Gallows or coming left off Gallows onto Idylwood Road “is a problem already,” Lee said he doesn’t see any opposition to adding turn lanes at the intersection, but the project team would have to consult with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“We just need to get it through the next level of design,” Lee said. “…We can show an intent to add those now. I don’t think there’s any pushback to that idea.”

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