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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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I-495 North is getting a new ramp to the I-66 West general purpose lanes, while the existing ramp will lead to the new I-66 Express Lanes (via VDOT)

Updated at 3:25 p.m. — The switch to the new I-495 North ramp to I-66 is now scheduled to be implemented tomorrow night and will be in place early Wednesday morning (Nov. 16), VDOT says.

Earlier: The Capital Beltway is getting a new ramp in Dunn Loring, as the Virginia Department of Transportation prepares to open another segment of the extended I-66 Express Lanes.

A new, permanent ramp and exit from the northbound I-495 Express Lanes to the general purpose lanes on I-66 West was scheduled to open this morning, VDOT announced Friday (Nov. 11).

The ramp is located on the right side of the Beltway, about 500 feet north of the existing ramp, and loops around the interchange.

The existing ramp closed today but will reopen on or around Saturday (Nov. 19) as the new connection from the 495 North Express Lanes to the new 66 Express Lanes West, according to VDOT, though the exact date could vary depending on the weather.

The department announced last week that the westbound I-66 toll lanes from I-495 to Route 28 in Centreville will open to traffic this Saturday, with the eastbound lanes following by the end of November.

The Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project has been in the works since 2016, adding 22 miles to the I-66 toll lanes while reconfiguring interchanges and creating a shared-use trail in the corridor. A 9-mile stretch of lanes opened between Gainesville and Centreville in September.

Starting Dec. 5, the entire I-66 Express Lanes system will require vehicles to have three or more occupants to qualify as high-occupancy so they can use the lanes toll-free.

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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.

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A new ramp from I-495 North to I-66 West is scheduled to open on Aug. 25 (via VDOT)

After enduring roughly four years of construction, drivers will soon get access to the first piece of the revamped I-66 and Capital Beltway interchange in Dunn Loring.

A new flyover exit ramp from the northbound Beltway, also known as I-495, to I-66 West is set to open next Thursday (Aug. 25) morning, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday (Aug. 17).

According to VDOT, the ramp will open ahead of schedule, and as the first ramp in the interchange to be completed, next week’s opening will represent a milestone for the I-495 portion of the massive project to add toll lanes on I-66 outside the Beltway.

The ramp is located a half-mile south of the old exit ramp, which “will close to allow construction of new ramp connections at the I-66/I-495 interchange,” VDOT says.

“Drivers should stay alert for this new travel change and use caution when traveling in this area,” VDOT said.

With the reconfigured interchange, drivers will be able to get to and from the I-495 Express Lanes to the new I-66 Express Lanes and switch between express and general-purpose lanes. The ramp from I-495 North to I-66 East will stay in the same place.

The new I-66 toll lanes, which will extend 22.5 miles west into Gainesville, are on track to begin operations in December.

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Morning Notes

Sunrise Senior Living is under construction at 1515 Chain Bridge Road in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Officials React to Oakton Crash — Multiple Fairfax County elected officials expressed devastation at news that two Oakton High School students have died after a vehicle crash in Oakton yesterday (Tuesday). Crisis support services are available for students, according to school board members. [Twitter]

Fire Reported at Prosperity Flats Apartments — “Fire sprinklers extinguished a fire Tuesday night at a high-rise apartment building in Dunn Loring, according to a 6:58 p.m. post on the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department’s official Twitter account. Fire units were called earlier to the apartment building in the 2700 block of Dorr Avenue after eighth floor residents reported seeing smoke.” [Patch]

Fairfax County Marks Pride Month — “Today, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed June 2022 as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We urge all county residents, employees and elected officials to celebrate our LGBTQ+ community, and to stand up, speak out and show support for those who face prejudice and discrimination.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Police Set Up Car Parts Theft Task Force — “The Fairfax County Police Department has created a Catalytic Converter Task Force to investigate the theft of the converters and any organized regional rings behind the increase in thefts…From January to April this year, 333 catalytic converters were stolen in Fairfax County, compared with just 27 similar thefts over the same period in 2021.” [Patch]

Major Broadband Investment Announced in Springfield — Virginia will receive $219.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to expand broadband access, Sen. Mark Warner announced yesterday at Northern Virginia Community College’s Springfield campus. The American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated to local governments through grants and could improve access in an estimated 76,873 locations. [Mark Warner]

New FCPS Budget Supports Virtual Mental Health Services — “As part of the $3.3 billion budget, school board officials allocated $500,000 for telehealth mental health services for students. The Virginia county is still in the early stages of identifying a vendor for the services, but county officials said program possibilities include access to physical and behavioral health providers and mobile services that would allow students to use their devices for symptom management or tracking.” [WTOP]

Fairfax City Moves Back Fourth of July Celebration — The City of Fairfax will hold its Independence Day Evening Show on July 5 at Fairfax High School due to a shortage of licensed pyrotechnicians. The city says its fireworks vendor has canceled more than two dozen contracts, an issue that has also affected the Town of Vienna. [Fairfax City]

New Urgent Care Clinic Opens in Lorton — Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic has opened a new weekend urgent care clinic in its Lorton office (10716 Richmond Highway, Suite 101) to help patients with acute bone and joint injuries. The clinic, which has also has offices in Fairfax, Arlington, and at Mount Vernon Hospital, accepts both walk-in patients and appointments. [M2 Orthopedics]

It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 82 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:34 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Wolf Trap Road off of Gallows ends at a bicycle route (via Google Maps)

A pair of streets linking Vienna and Dunn Loring could be altered to make room for bicycle lanes as part of an annual paving and restriping program.

The Fairfax County and Virginia transportation departments have proposed narrowing the travel and parking lanes on Cottage Street and Wolf Trap Road so bicycle lanes can be added “where possible.”

The focus of the Cottage Street project would be 1.1-mile stretch between Gallows Road and Cedar Lane. On Wolf Trap, the bicycle lanes could be added from Gallows to where the road dead-ends and turns into a bicycle path through Heritage Resource Park.

“Existing legal on-street parking will be maintained,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation says of both proposed projects.

FCDOT and the Virginia Department of Transportation are also planning to upgrade crosswalks at five intersections in Providence District, four in the Dunn Loring area and one in Oakton:

The county and state collaborate on repaving and restriping efforts annually as part of VDOT’s regular street maintenance duties. This year’s work will begin sometime in April and continue until November.

Here’s more from FCDOT on what to expect:

Residents can expect work vehicles in their neighborhood during the project. Motorists are asked to be alert to temporary traffic patterns. Cars, basketball hoops or garbage cans may need to be temporarily relocated while work is under way. Work hours are usually limited to outside of rush hours. Crews typically work on neighborhood streets weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On other roads such as interstates and some primaries, work may occur overnight.

A virtual public meeting on the proposed Providence District projects will be held at 7 p.m. next Monday (April 18).

VDOT has a statewide paving map with information on specific roads that will be updated weekly throughout the season.

Photo via Google Maps

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

Fairfax County Public Schools is moving forward with plans to convert the Dunn Loring Administration Center into an elementary school, despite questions from some school board and community members about the project’s urgency.

The Fairfax County School Board voted 10-0 with two abstentions on March 10 to let staff re-negotiate an existing architecture and engineering contract with the firm Samaha Associates, initiating a planning process that typically takes about two years, according to FCPS Executive Director for Facilities and Transportation Services Jessica Gillis.

The vote also authorized staff to use $2 million from a 2019 schools bond that had been designated for an Oakton-area elementary school until the community objected to the use of Blake Lane Park as a site.

Led by Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, the school board agreed in January 2021 to reallocate the $36.8 million for that project to repurpose the Dunn Loring Center, which currently hosts special education services and programs for parents.

While Dunn Loring Elementary School will serve a different area than the Blake Lane site would have, FCPS staff say it will provide needed capacity relief as the system braces for an expected influx of students from new development in Tysons and Merrifield.

“This is the long game for us, to ensure that we have enough space within this region as we anticipate enrollment growth in this particular Tysons area,” FCPS Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith said.

Though the school board supported the repurposing again on Feb. 10 by including it in a new capital improvement program, some members expressed reservations at last week’s meeting after receiving a letter from the McLean Citizens Association that questioned its prioritization over other projects in areas that face more immediate crowding challenges.

Citing enrollment forecasts in the new CIP, the MCA Board of Directors noted that the five elementary schools in the Marshall High School pyramid, where the Dunn Loring school will be located, are all currently between 72 and 99% capacity, and their student populations are projected to decline over the next five years. Read More

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It took approximately half an hour for the police motorcade escorting the body of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss to travel the 20-mile stretch of I-66 from Gainesville to the I-495 interchange in Merrifield.

Along the way, the procession encountered dozens of Fairfax County police officers, firefighters, and residents who gathered on and under overpasses yesterday (Friday) afternoon to honor Knauss, one of 13 American servicemembers killed in the Aug. 26 bombing at Kabul’s airport during the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, the 23-year-old Knauss grew up in Corryton, Tennessee, a village about 20 miles northeast of Knoxville, and joined the Army right out of high school. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan after previously serving there for nine months, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Killing at least 170 Afghan civilians, the attack on Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport occurred in the midst of a frenzied effort to evacuate thousands of people seeking to leave the country ahead of the U.S. military’s Aug. 30 departure deadline as the Taliban took control.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced Thursday morning that a funeral procession for Knauss would pass through the county after 3 p.m., advising community members to go to an overpass along the route from I-66 East to I-495 South if they wanted to pay their respects.

Accompanied by several police cruisers and motorcycles, the hearse entered from Prince William County around 3:20 p.m. and traveled east through Fairfax before turning south in the Merrifield area. Upon reaching Springfield, the procession took I-395 North on its way to Arlington National Cemetery.

The motorcade was expected to be overseen by a pair of helicopters, but they were apparently shelved as a late afternoon downpour significantly reduced visibility.

About a dozen people from different backgrounds assembled along the Gallows Road overpass by the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, undeterred by the rain that drenched the area around 3:45 p.m., just as the motorcade passed.

For Oakton resident Dennis Greza, the decision to watch the procession came from a personal place, spurred by seeing his brother serve in the Air Force. He said he wanted to pay respect to Knauss for making the “ultimate sacrifice.”

The service members killed in the Kabul airport bombing included 11 Marines and one member of the Navy, along with Knauss as the only Army casualty.

Elsewhere along I-66, Fairfax County police officers stood at attention, and American flags hoisted by fire engines greeted the funeral procession.

In a news release sent out at 4:16 p.m., Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced that they will cosponsor a bipartisan bill to award all 13 servicemembers a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the legislature.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the 13 servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last days of the war in Afghanistan,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement. “We must never forget their bravery. Honoring them with the Congressional Gold Medal is one way to remember their heroic service to our nation.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report.

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