Flattening FCPS Enrollment Could Change Expansion, Renovation

South Lakes High School After several years of rapid growth, Fairfax County Public Schools enrollment is now slowing, which changes the longterm plans for school capacity enhancements, according to the schools system’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan, says Superintendent Karen Garza.

Nonetheless, FCPS’ long-term plans included build several new schools between 2017 and 2021, according to the CIP.

FCPS says it will need $777 million for the 2017-21 CIP — or about $155 million per year — for new schools and additions, capacity enhancements, and renovations to address current and anticipated enrollment increases.

Money from the approved 2015 School Bond Referendum and previous referenda will fund approximately $429 million of the requirement, leaving a balance of $347 million unfunded.

Among the already funded projects in the Reston area are South Lakes High School’s 40,000-square-foot addition. When it is completed, the school will have capacity for 2,700 students.

Unfunded projects include a new elementary school in the northwest part of the county (planning is funded; construction is unfunded); an elementary school in the Fairfax-Oakton area; and a high school in the western part of the county that could draw from the Reston/Herndon area.

The school system said it is likely to get additional money from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors ($13.1 for infrastructure management), as well as a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that will fund 80 percent of the cost of upgrades to the Fort Belvoir Elementary School and a construction of a new school on an adjacent site.

Garza says in the report that while FCPS grew by more than 2,400 students annually the last several years, the system saw contracted growth in 2015. She says growth is expected to slow considerably between now and 20121.

“[The contracted growth] was due to a decrease in the birth-to-kindergarten yield ratio, which compares the number of kindergarten students enrolled to the number of births in Fairfax County five years ago,” Garza says in the report. “It was also caused by a rapidly declining in-migration of new students. These indicators have led to a five-year forecast that continues to project overall enrollment growth at a moderated rate. The five-year CIP horizon forecasts approximately 189,000 students by school year 2020-21.”

That number is only about 3,000 more than the current FCPS enrollment. She says the county “may have seen peak enrollment” in elementary grades. A year ago, Garza predicted the system could have more than 198,000 students by 2020.

However, different parts of the county are growing — or slowing — at different rates, she said.

“These new trends of growth are inconsistent across the county and continue to present a facilities capacity challenge,” said Garza. “The school system struggles to provide sufficient capacity in our schools. Despite the planned additional capacity intended to address projected needs, uneven enrollment growth throughout the county will necessitate the continuation of small- and large-scale boundary adjustments to take advantage of available capacity whenever it is practicable to do so.”

Some details from the 2017-21 CIP, which is available on FCPS’ website:

Future Western HS: FCPS will monitor high school enrollments at schools such as Chantilly HS, Centreville HS, Herndon HS, Oakton HS, South Lakes HS, and Westfield HS. Based on potential site acquisition location, construct a new high school to alleviate capacity concerns. Reassign students from overcrowded high schools to high schools where surplus capacity is available.

The site, which has not been identified yet, would be in the “western end of the Silver Line Metro vicinity. This solution will involve multiple boundary adjustments to the schools in the western portion of the county such as Chantilly, Centreville, Herndon, Oakton, South Lakes, and Westfield High schools,” the report says.

Reston’s Sunrise Valley and Terraset elementary schools are nearing the end of their capacity enhancement/renovation projects. Those projects are expected to be finished during the 2016-17 school year.

Sunrise Valley will have a capacity of 750 students; Terraset will have capacity for 800 students.

South Lakes High School’s 40,000 square-foot expansion has already been funded and is expected to begin soon. The school will have space for 2,700 students when it is finished.

Herndon High is in line for a $105 million renovation, part of which is already funded. That would increase the capacity from 2,092 to 2,500 students.

However, the growth projections (and the plans for a new high school nearby) show Herndon may not need to add capacity, the CIP says. The report says it will “monitor student enrollment. Capacity deficit [will be] accommodated with temporary facilities or interior architectural modifications.”

Langston Hughes Middle School is recommended to receive renovation and capacity enhancement during the 10-year CIP cycle

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the FY 2017-21 CIP on Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. at Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church.

The Board has scheduled a work session on Monday, Jan. 11, and will vote on the CIP at its business meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21.

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