Fairfax County Public Schools has settled on a path forward for its plan to construct a new elementary school in Dunn Loring.
A rezoning application recently submitted to the county proposes demolishing the existing Dunn Loring Administrative Center at 2334 Gallows Road and replacing it with a four-level school building that will be accompanied by athletic fields and playgrounds.
Allowed a maximum height of 65 feet, the four-story building appears to have triumphed over an alternate design that would’ve resulted in a shorter but more sprawling building of two to three stories.
The two-story administrative center started life as an elementary school in 1938, but it got repurposed in the 1970s after declining enrollment led FCPS to close the school, the school system’s legal agent in the case, Hunton Andrews Kurth associate Jessica Vara, wrote in a statement of justification.
“Now, the surrounding community is again in need of a new elementary school in the Dunn Loring area to relieve overcrowded schools in the Dunn Loring/Falls Church/Tysons area,” Vara wrote.
According to the submitted plan, the new school building will be approximately 125,905 square feet in size and be constructed at the corner of Idylwood and Gallows Road, occupying roughly the same footprint as the current building.
The building’s ground level will include music classrooms, workrooms, a cafeteria, a staff lounge and a reception area at the main entrance. The second floor will have kindergarten, third grade and special education classrooms, followed by art, first grade and second grade classrooms on the third floor, and fourth and fifth grade classrooms on the top floor.
FCPS has proposed replacing Murphy Field — the soccer field that currently covers the western portion of the nearly 10-acre site — with a dual soccer/softball field that will be supplemented by four playgrounds:
- An approximately 8,295-square-foot modular playground
- A 2,009-square-foot paved play area for kindergarteners
- A 3,318-square-foot “creative” playground for pre-kindergarten students
- An approximately 11,373-square-foot paved play area
Two new vehicle access points will be constructed on Idylwood Road, replacing the existing driveway off of Gallows Road. The school will have separate drop-off locations for buses and the kiss-and-ride “to minimize the potential for traffic issues,” according to the application.
The school’s parking lot will have 116 spaces, and bicycle racks will be provided. FCPS also plans to construct a new 5-foot-wide sidewalk to connect with the existing concrete path along Idylwood Road.
The application hasn’t been officially accepted for review by Fairfax County planners yet. Per its website, FCPS estimates the project will be completed in 2027.
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.”
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.