Fairfax County is looking to convert the Original Mount Vernon High School into a collection of public facilities, including possibly an early childhood center, a senior center, a performing arts space and a business incubator.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is seeking a special exception amendment that will allow the county to turn the 84-year-old, now-vacated high school into an accessible public facility with a variety of proposed uses.
Potential uses listed in the application, which was filed last week, include a gym, an early childhood education center, a teen and senior center, a culinary and business incubator, visual and performing arts space, a welcome center, a commercial kitchen for education, and space for nonprofit programs focused on education, career and workforce development and financial literacy.
“Developing a cohesive facility with creative open spaces and classroom areas will nurture these coalitions and support the exchange of ideas and shared innovation,” the application says. “Design concepts will allow for flexibility and adaptability, so the spaces are changeable based on future needs.”
The special exception amendment was actually approved by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13, 2022, and a design and site plan are in the works, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck reported on June 6.
However, in March, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down the county’s updated zoning ordinance, which created the “Alternative Use of Historic Buildings” category that is the basis of the proposed conversion. The ordinance has since been readopted, but the application has been resubmitted and is going through the approval process again as a precaution, Storck said.
The school’s location in the Mount Vernon District makes it ideal for a multi-use public facility, playing a “critical role” in providing educational opportunities to those in the Route 1 corridor, according to the application.
A special exception is needed to convert the 140,000 square-foot, 22-acre property at 8333 Richmond Highway due to its historical nature.
Once part of George Washington’s original estate, the school opened in early 1940 and its Colonial Revival buildings were constructed under the federal Public Works Administration program. The school was initially only open to white students, due to Jim Crow segregation that was common across Northern Virginia.
The Original Mount Vernon High School is listed on both the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places.
The county has been planning for its adaptive reuse since at least 2016. The facility is already hosting a renovated and reopened gym, a satellite Fire Marshal’s Office and a Fairfax County Public Schools registration site.
But the county wants to add a lot more. Under the proposal, the building would be in use for up to 17 hours a day, with the early childhood education center opening as early as 6 a.m. and the community spaces closing as late as 11 p.m.
The hope is to design the building so it can accommodate up to 2,000 people on a daily basis, per the application.
To accommodate a requirement that new additions to buildings on the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register “distinguish themselves from the existing historic building,” the welcome center would have an all-glass facade with a small section of red brick.
The application is scheduled for a planning commission public hearing on Sept. 13, which will be followed by a hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26.
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