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McLean citizens group seeks data to show need for Dunn Loring elementary school

Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking to build a four-level Dunn Loring Elementary School at Idylwood and Gallows Road (via Fairfax County)

Planning is well underway for a new elementary school in Dunn Loring, but some McLean residents argue that Fairfax County Public Schools still hasn’t explained why the project should be prioritized over other needs.

As part of a resolution on the proposed county and FCPS budgets, the McLean Citizens Association’s board of directors urged the Fairfax County School Board last Wednesday (April 3) to “refrain from constructing” the school if officials can’t “provide adequate data” justifying it.

“What they are expecting to do is spend $80 million-ish, and they do not have any data to support the construction of that,” Louise Epstein, who chairs MCA’s budget and taxation committee, said.

Partially funded by bond money once intended for a new school in Oakton, the proposed four-story, 125,905-square-foot building will repurpose the Dunn Loring Administrative Center at 2334 Gallows Road. In addition to relieving crowding at schools in the Dunn Loring, Tysons and Falls Church areas, the project will add new playground facilities to the 10-acre site and move the vehicle access points from Gallows Road to Idylwood Road, according to a rezoning application under review by the county.

While crowding was an issue at Shrevewood Elementary School for years, the school in Idylwood is now operating at 95% capacity, and FCPS projects that will drop to 86% in the 2028-2029 school year, according to its latest capital improvement program (CIP), which was approved by the school board on Feb. 8.

Stenwood Elementary School, which is in Dunn Loring, is utilizing 97% of its capacity right now and is projected to reach 98% in 2028-2029.

In its resolution, MCA acknowledged that FCPS will face “upward pressures” on enrollment from new residential development, including in Merrifield and Tysons, but it says the CIP and its own “independent analysis” based on data provided by FCPS don’t show any near-term impacts on elementary schools in Dunn Loring.

“The School Board’s inclusion of Dunn Loring project in the FY 2025 Advertised Budget is not supported by FCPS 5-year enrollment projections,” MCA’s resolution says, “since no elementary school near Dunn Loring has an existing or projected ‘capacity deficit,’ and elementary schools in that vicinity are projected to have an aggregate ‘capacity surplus’ of 789 seats in 2028-29.”

Per the CIP, FCPS is forecasting capacity deficits at 20 elementary schools by the 2028-2029 school year, including at Spring Hill, Franklin Sherman and Kent Gardens. Boundary changes in McLean will take effect starting this fall.

Based on that data, proceeding with the Dunn Loring school contradicts FCPS guidelines that state new school construction should be considered when there are persistent, “significant capacity deficits” and “only where surplus capacity or existing school inventory are not available,” the MCA resolution argues.

In a statement to FFXnow, an FCPS spokesperson noted that the six elementary schools closest to the Dunn Loring site “have varying capacity status for current programs and growth,” from 80% utilization at Freedom Hill Elementary School to 98% at Stenwood.

“The Dunn Loring Elementary School Capital Project will relieve the pressure of increasing instructional program needs in a rapidly growing area of Fairfax County,” the spokesperson said, adding that the CIP’s five-year projections don’t include developments that are planned but not yet under construction.

Construction on the Dunn Loring elementary school is expected to start in fiscal year 2026, which would begin on July 1, 2025, and finish in FY 2028. With a total cost of $84.4 million, the project still needs more than $39 million in additional funding for construction.

The MCA board wasn’t unanimous in its skepticism of the Dunn Loring project, with some members pushing to scrap that section of the resolution altogether.

Kent Holland argued that it’s “wise” to plan and build a facility now to prepare for future population growth in the Tysons area. He recalled opposing a letter that MCA sent in 2022 objecting to the use of bond funds for the Dunn Loring elementary school.

“I think at this point, we’re just tilting at windmills,” he said. “We’re opposing a school where one is going to be needed at some point in the future, and I think it just looks like people in McLean are saying, ‘Hey, don’t put it in that part of the county, we want the money in McLean.'”

Another member concurred that the resolution was “unbaked,” lamenting that its “selective use of data” overly emphasizes residents leaving the county compared to those moving in.

“It is preposterous that we cherry pick and exclude the trend of a substantial influx of immigrant population coming into McLean,” he said.

Though the resolution passed last week contends that FCPS projections “are likely to exceed actual future enrollment,” MCA previously made the case that the school system underestimates student growth in the Tysons area by not incorporating planned but unbuilt developments in its forecast.