Email signup
The Sully Community Center, which is slated to get rooftop solar panels this spring (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

More than three years into a groundbreaking agreement, this spring should bring solar power to one of Fairfax County’s facilities for the first time ever.

The county had 30 sites lined up for solar panels under a power purchase agreement (PPA) initiative that was touted the biggest ever undertaken by a Virginia locality when it was announced in December 2019.

Then, lease negotiations with the company contracted to install and operate the panels stalled, forcing the county to start from scratch with a different provider in July 2021.

“With the pandemic, there were supply chain issues within the solar industry and the cost of some construction materials went up,” said John Morrill, the county Office of Environment and Energy Coordination’s (OEEC) division manager for innovation and sustainability. “The county negotiated and accepted revised pricing from the vendors. But it’s still challenging, and the size of the system is still important to make the numbers work for both parties.”

Though the PPA initiative remains in place, the county is also pursuing other options to outfit its properties for solar power — specifically, incorporating it into new construction projects or enlisting energy services companies to do energy efficiency upgrades.

The solar project expected to be completed first will come from the general contractor hired to build the Sully Community Center, which opened in the Dulles area on Sept. 17.

The contractor is currently getting permits for the solar photovoltaic panels, putting the installation on track for completion by May, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The general contractor route will also ensure that the new Seven Corners Fire Station has solar panels when it opens in spring 2024. The existing station on Sleepy Hollow Road was demolished last month.

Projects are also in various stages of development for the Woodlawn and Reston fire stations, the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean, and the Pender building, which hosts the county’s Housing and Community Development offices.

For those sites, the county will buy solar panels from energy services companies hired to install them along with other efficiency upgrades. The fire stations are in the final design phase with delivery target dates in August, while the Spring Hill project is in engineering design and slated for completion in winter 2024.

The county is targeting October for the Pender building upgrades, which are “a bit more complex,” Morrill says. In addition to a rooftop solar array, the project will retrofit the facility’s lighting and replace some other infrastructure, according to a permit under review.

“This combination of approaches gives the county maximum flexibility, as smaller systems…are not suitable to the PPA model,” Morrill said. Read More

0 Comments
Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Sidewalk improvements are in the works for two streets in the Town of Herndon.

Included as part of the town’s long-range capital projects planning tool — the Capital Improvement Program — the town is planning a series of sidewalk improvements on Spring and Locust streets, each of which will cost over $1 million overall.

The overall CIP uses roughly $49.6 million in grant funding to support 25 different projects — a figure that does not include $57 million for projects at Elden Street and nearly $18 million in funding for Spring Street improvements.

Both of those projects are primarily funded through grants.

“Funding for large capital projects needs a mechanism so projects can come to fruition. The FY2024-FY2029 CIP incorporates all projects despite the lack of funding,” John Vernin, who manages the town’s CIP program, said in a memo.

The CIP establishes a six-year schedule for public improvements. The town’s planning commission, which held a work session on Monday (Jan. 9), makes recommendations to the town manager prior to the town council’s consideration of the program.

So far, the town has budgeted nearly $1.4 million each for the Spring and Locust street improvements. The town plans to construct continuous, ADA-compliant, 5-foot-wide sidewalks along both sides of the streets.

The Locust Street project will extend from old Spring Street to Elden Street. It will also include curb-cuts.

For Spring Street, the project will extend from Locust Street to the new Spring Street. A project to widen a quarter-mile of East Spring Street is currently underway.

The town might construct the project in phases.

0 Comments
Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean (via Google Maps)

Efforts to alleviate crowding issues at Kent Gardens Elementary School are starting to pick up steam, but Fairfax County Public Schools is still working to identify and pursue specific solutions.

With 1,023 students, the McLean school is at 121% of its building capacity, per a proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for fiscal years 2023-2027. That makes it one of the most crowded schools in FCPS, second only to Wakefield Forest Elementary School and tied with Centreville High School.

Wakefield Forest in Annandale is at 135% capacity, but construction is underway on a renovation, which will reduce its capacity utilization to 80%. Centreville High is in line for an expansion as part of the FCPS renovation queue, which was last updated in 2009.

Kent Gardens, however, has yet to join the queue, despite overcrowding complaints persisting in the McLean High School pyramid for a decade now.

That may change after FCPS staff hosted a community meeting on Oct. 7 to discuss the challenges facing the elementary school and gather feedback on potential solutions.

“The upcoming CIP will highlight Kent Gardens as a priority site for a full scoping of options by staff and community engagement to determine the best way forward,” said Elaine Tholen, who represents McLean as the school board’s Dranesville District member. “Staff is also investigating short term improvements that can be done at the Kent Gardens site as longer term solutions are implemented over the next several years.”

Short-term options could include building maintenance or improvements to the on-site trailers, Tholen told FFXnow. Temporary classrooms were added in the 2019-2020 school year and this current year “to accommodate short-term capacity deficit,” according to the CIP.

In addition to a renovation, long-term solutions could include programming or boundary changes, which would be phased in over multiple years, Tholen said.

The school board approved a boundary adjustment in 2021 that shifted some McLean High students to Langley High School, though Kent Gardens wasn’t affected.

According to FCPS, the capacity issues stem from a combination of population growth in McLean — which could continue if development progresses as the county hopes — and high demand for its programs.

“The capacity challenges at Kent Gardens ES are complex as the school not only serves a growing community within its boundaries, but also incorporates students outside the boundary for the popular French Immersion program,” an FCPS spokesperson said by email. Read More

0 Comments
Rendering shows an expansion and a renovation for the Mount Vernon RECenter (via Fairfax County)

The Mount Vernon RECenter is closing at the end of the month for a two-year, $74 million renovation project.

The nearly four-decade-old recreation center right off Belle View Blvd is set to close at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 to allow for a massive expansion and renovation.

The plan is to add about 75,000 square feet to the rec center, which is set to include a two-story fitness center, building upgrades, an indoor track, a remodeled pool, and a second “NHL-sized” ice rink. The project is expected to take two years, with a reopening scheduled for the early part of 2025.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s board officially approved the upgrades to its “oldest and most popular” facility back in March.

The recreation center, which opened in 1974, has had a myriad of problems in recent years, requiring workarounds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in short-term fixes. That includes renting ice chillers and dehumidification systems as well as fixing a failing roof.

While closing the entire facility for two years was a “tough” decision, it was the best option of several the county considered, FCPA director Jai Cole said in a press release:

The decision to close the entire facility for two years was a tough one; but it is the best option when it comes to delivering the most desirable outcome and limiting the impact of the closure on our customers. We have worked very hard to create a schedule that has enabled the facility to remain open for as long as possible prior to construction and to condense the closure period as much. While we understand that the temporary closing is challenging, we very much look forward to delivering a top-notch, state-of-the-art facility that will serve this community well into the future.

The total project is set to cost just over $74.4 million, an 83% increase over the proposed 2021 budget. Last year, county officials set the budget at $40.7 million, but it became clear that number was unrealistic.

According to a May 2022 presentation, bids came in much higher due to supply chain delays, building infrastructure challenges, and “complex construction phasing with market uncertainty.”

Even in the six months since then, the budget has risen again by another $7 million.

“The total project budget is $74,431,381 — an increase of $33.73 million over the original 2021 budget,” FCPA spokesperson Ben Boxer wrote FFXnow in an email. “The cost increase has been driven by ongoing supply chain challenges and inflation. The cost increase is consistent with construction cost increases across the board on all projects.”

The 24-month closing of the facility is also expected to cost the county $1.3 million in revenue.

The additional money needed for the project will come from a reallocation of other bond funds that had been marked for other projects as well as $25 million from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that was provided to the county, per Boxer.

Residents who have countywide rec center memberships will be able to use it to access the county’s eight other eight centers. The George Washington Rec Center near Mount Vernon High School will expand its hours on Jan. 2, 2023 to accommodate the closure of the Mount Vernon center.

0 Comments
The Barton Hill Recreation Area in Reston is slated for upgrades (via Google Maps)

Upgraded lighting is no longer a component of upgrades to the Barton Hill tennis courts in Reston.

Reston Association will not challenge the Oct. 26 vote by the Fairfax County Board of Appeals upholding an earlier decision to require additional approvals before lights can be installed at the facility.

Board of Appeals member Daniel Aminoff emphasized that the county’s current ordinance does not specifically indicate that lighting-related upgrades are considered exceptions to a requirement for an amendment to Reston’s existing Planned Residential Community (PRC) plan.

“Had the Board of Supervisors intended to include lights, they would have specifically delineated in that case,” said Aminoff.

The board agreed with a county zoning administrator that a PRC plan amendment is required for the proposed upgrades in addition to a site plan.

RA had argued that it only needs a sports illumination plan to move forward with 23 LED light poles, which would stand 26 feet tall. RA also said the approved development plan for the area describes the courts as a recreational area and, as a result, allows for greater flexibility in planning.

The project will still include refurbishment and replacement of the existing tennis courts. RA’s board removed roughly $381,000 from its budget after the lighting component was dropped, according to RA spokesperson Mike Leone.

Leone declined to provide a response on the association opting not to appeal the county’s decision.

The proposal includes renovation of four courts and striping for tennis and pickle ball. RA previously anticipated the project would be ready by the end of the year, but the new timeline has not currently been finalized.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments

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.”

0 Comments
Stabilizing and drainage work to be done at Burke Lake (via Fairfax County)

Burke Lake’s marina is being closed for a number of months, and the lake will be lowered by two feet to help stabilize the beach area and improve drainage.

The $1.5 million project aims to stabilize the beach area as well as add “armoring” — the use of physical structures to prevent further coastal erosion — to a large portion of the shoreline. Drainage will also be improved around the existing boathouse and restroom buildings.

“Gravel from the shoreline has eroded and deposited in the shallow area where [Fairfax County Park Authority] boats are launched, creating challenges when launching boats and causing damage to the boats,” spokesperson Judy Pedersen told FFXnow. “In addition, existing storm outfall and foot traffic are causing erosion to the shoreline adjacent to the marina.”

Paid for by county voter-approved bonds, construction is expected to start next month. The marina is already closed until the spring.

“Contingent on the weather, the marina is expected to reopen at the end of April 2023,” the park authority says on the project page.

To help with the construction, Burke Lake is now in the process of being lowered by two feet.

A “controlled drawdown” is underway, with 2 to 4 inches of water being pumped out of the lake a day. It’s estimated that Burke Lake will hit the 2-foot goal “on or before” next Monday (Nov. 19), based on a predicted lack of rainfall over the next several days.

The lake is expected to remain at this lower level until at least the end of March 2023, but its normal elevation will eventually return through natural runoff.

The rate and timing of the lake level’s rise is “contingent on precipitation,” the project page notes.

While the marina will be closed and water levels will be lower than usual, Burke Lake will remain open to those looking to fish and spend time on the water.

However, the park authority is asking boaters, canoeists, and kayakers to proceed with caution since “numerous obstructions will be exposed or may be present just under the water’s surface.”

The 218-acre public fishing lake is owned by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. The lake is located in Burke Lake Park, which is owned and operated by FCPA.

The park sits on land originally purchased by the federal government as a potential site for an international airport. When airport plans shifted to Chantilly, the nearly 900 acres of land were handed over to the county. The park opened to the public just about six decades ago, in 1963.

0 Comments
The Dunn Loring Administrative Center will be converted back to its original purpose as an elementary school (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Local residents will get their first glimpse of the planned Dunn Loring Elementary School later this week.

Fairfax County Public Schools will kick off the public input portion of the project’s design process on Thursday (Nov. 10) with a meeting at the Gatehouse Administrative Center (8115 Gatehouse Road) in Merrifield.

The meeting will take place from 6-7 p.m. in the building’s first floor cafe, where capacity will be limited to 150 people. As a result, a Zoom link will also be sent to those who register in advance.

Advanced by the Fairfax County School Board in March, the capital project will repurpose the Dunn Loring Administrative Center at 2334 Gallows Road as an elementary school expected to accommodate 900 students.

From a message that FCPS sent to area families:

The Dunn Loring Administrative Center was originally built to address the needs of a rapidly growing population. Additions were needed throughout the 1940s and 50s as the Baby Boom generation entered elementary school in this thriving community. Needs changed and by 1978, the school was repurposed, eventually serving FCPS staff as an administrative center. As our community grows in a new era, we have the opportunity to return the building to its original purpose and support the needs of students in the surrounding community.

The repurposing of the Dunn Loring Administrative Center will provide approximately 900 students with an elementary school rooted in history and poised to provide 21st-century learning, preparing young children for bright futures. Through this single project, FCPS supports quality education in ten other schools by relieving the pressures of increasing enrollment growth.

The planned renovations and additions will result in a 118,000-square-foot facility, according to the project page.

The engineering firm Samaha Associates was contracted to design the school, which is being funded by $36.8 million in bonds originally designated for a facility in the Fairfax/Oakton area.

The upcoming meeting will give members of the public their first opportunity to see and weigh in on the future school’s design, but “no major changes may be made” at this stage, FCPS said.

“Small adjustments may be considered,” FCPS said, noting that the feedback will be shared with the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, school board, and its staff.

Though originally pitched as a solution to crowding concerns at Shrevewood Elementary School, the Dunn Loring project has ruffled some feathers among school board members and residents who feel it jumped the renovation queue that FCPS uses for major capital projects.

The McLean Citizens Association, which urged FCPS to drop its plans this past spring, shared a report last week that argued the school system’s student enrollment projections might not fully capture the growth anticipated in the Tysons area.

FCPS has maintained that the future school’s boundaries remain to be determined.

“Boundary discussions will begin at the start of construction, which may be as early as spring 2024,” FCPS said.

At least one more community meeting will be held on the school’s design, along with a meeting by a design feedback and engagement committee. Comments for the committee can already be submitted online.

Those meetings will precede a public hearing before the county’s planning commission. No dates have been set beyond Thursday’s meeting.

0 Comments
SEIU Local 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong delivered remarks at a Board of Supervisors public hearing Tuesday (courtesy SEIU Fairfax)

Fairfax County has officially allocated millions of unspent revenue from the previous year’s budget for items like restrooms for school stadiums and a boost of the county’s hiring program.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 11), the board voted 7-1 to allocate $7.5 million in carryover funds to help install permanent restrooms at 15 Fairfax County Public School outdoor high school stadiums.

“At its heart, this is a matter of equity. No matter which school a student goes to in Fairfax County, it is expected they receive not only a high-quality education, but that they are provided high-quality, accessible facilities as well,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement.

The school board has already agreed to pitch in half of the funds needed for the new facilities.

The board also approved an additional $2 million for a “comprehensive hiring incentive program,” which could grant up to $15,000 in bonuses for new hires in critical county positions. In total, the reserve includes more than $4 million, but exactly where the money will go remains to be determined.

“A portion of all the funding could be used for all agencies, but we do not know exactly how much of the allocation will be towards hiring incentives until the County Executive reports on the design of the program,” McKay’s office told FFXnow.

The move comes as the Fairfax County Police Department and other public safety entities face historic vacancy rates and staff shortages.

Tammie Wondong, a 32-year county employee and president of SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax, lauded the board for amending the carryover package to create a hiring incentive program instead of funding raises for top executives.

A recent “benchmark study” of the county’s executive and managerial positions found salaries were generally below market rate. Staff recommended that the pay scale be simplified and adjusted to be more competitive at the Board of Supervisors’ personnel committee meeting on July 26.

“The Board clearly heard employees’ voices because they changed the carryover package to invest in a hiring incentives reserve, instead of executive pay,” Wondong said. “However, the county must do more to ensure fair pay for their hard-working employees who got our community through the worst of the pandemic.”

The union delivered hundreds of petitions urging the county to maintain transparency around the use of carryover funds, relieve wage compression, and ensure all county employees are engaged in future benchmark studies.

Dave Lysons, executive director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, said the county is no longer competitive for many jobs, adding that its current vacancy rate is 13% overall with a 17% rate in public works.

“Fairfax County is no longer competitive for these jobs…We can’t continue like this,” Lyons said.

Other allocations include roughly $25 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, part of an overall commitment to fund $100 million in projects over six years.

Supervisors had requested that funds be provided specifically for new sidewalks to Huntley Meadows Park and trail improvements in Gum Springs, but those items didn’t make the final cut.

“The sidewalks were not a part of this current package but may be considered as part of the ongoing $100M commitment to pedestrian safety,” McKay’s office said by email.

Among other needs, the county also allocated $175,000 to design and construct a picnic shelter, ADA-accessible pathway and picnic tables and benches for Justice Park in the Mason District.

0 Comments
Herndon will work with Fairfax Water to add a pump station next to the police station (via Town of Herndon)

A pump station proposed for the Herndon Police Department site will be able to process 10 million gallons of water per day, town staff say.

The station is part of a broader retooling of Herndon’s Utility Master Plan, which outlines how the town will bolster its water infrastructure in preparation for development around the downtown and future Metro station.

Presented to the town council in 2017, that plan anticipated the town would need to increase its water capacity by an additional 1 million gallons per day by 2025. The town purchased new storage in 2018, bringing its total capacity to 5.7 million gallons per day, according to a staff report by the Herndon Department of Public Works.

However, a shift in development trends in favor of residential construction over commercial led staff to revisit its earlier estimates and conclude that a new pump station would make more sense than the previous plan to add two transmission mains.

“This would allow us to get the additional capacity that we will need in a much more economical and reliable fashion than our previous plans estimated,” Herndon Deputy Director of Public Works Tammy Chastain told the town council during a work session on Tuesday (Oct. 4).

The new pump station will be on the police station property at 397 Herndon Parkway, where it can be connected to an existing 24-inch-wide pipeline that runs parallel to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

The town council is slated to approve a pending agreement with Fairfax Water for the project on Tuesday (Oct. 11), kicking off the design process.

Fairfax Water would be responsible for designing, building, operating and maintaining the facility, while the Town of Herndon would cover the design and construction costs.

“They are the ones that are going to have to upgrade it and maintain it,” Chastain said. “If it needs major repairs, we’d probably be helping in funding that. It’s only for us right now, which is why we’re paying the full cost.”

Right now, the estimated cost is nearly $5 million — higher than what town officials suggested before initiating an engineering study in 2019 but lower than the over $6 million that would’ve been needed for two transmission lines, according to Chastain.

The funding will come from the federal COVID-19 relief that the town was allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act, which included water and sewer projects as a viable use of the money, Town Manager Bill Ashton confirmed.

“This is good news because we’ve been planning for this for years,” Mayor Sheila Olem said. “Unfortunately, we went through Covid, but now, we’re getting this funding for something we knew we were putting in anyway. This is great.”

The pump station is “a step amongst several” in Herndon’s utility plan, Ashton said. At some point, the town will also replace its storage tank on Alabama Drive with two smaller tanks that the pump will fill.

Since the station will be right next to the W&OD, Councilmember Sean Regan questioned how it might affect the greenery alongside the trail and whether anything will need to be replaced.

Ashton responded that the potential impact on green space is “a design consideration we would certainly look at.”

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list