(Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. to remove unclear information about the number of total available seats in the South Lakes Pyramid.)
Local citizen representatives pressed county and school officials on how the school system will mitigate the impact of planned and future development on Reston’s public schools Tuesday night.
The meeting, the third in a series on the county’s proposal to increase the community’s population density, highlighted a major obstacle in managing increased school enrollment: limited and uncertain funding to meet future needs.
Kevin Sneed, who oversees design and construction services for the school system, said new development is not expected to generate many students because of the style of new multi-family units.
Two residential buildings recently built in Tysons generated only 21 students, Sneed said. Student enrollment from new residential development in Reston is expected to increase in the next 20-25 years, he said. Meanwhile, the school system must balance the need for renovations at several schools.
The site for a new high school in the area — especially along the Dulles Suburban Corridor where McNair, Coates and Hutchison Elementary Schools are served — is critical. However, the school system is constrained by lack of funding to purchase a new property. And current plans to mitigate the future impact of development on schools likely will not kick in until development actually takes place, Sneed said. Development may go live years after it is approved by the county, he said.
Stu Gibson, a former school board member of 16 years, said building capacity only once the students impact the system is a “disturbing” strategy. Gibson said he was concerned that the county is planning for additional residences before the infrastructure is in place to handle additional growth — a mode of operation that he said goes against Reston’s comprehensive plan.
Instead of purchasing land, the county and the school system are relying on proffers from developers and negotiating with applicants to see if land for a new high school can be provided, according to Leslie Johnson, the county’s zoning administrator. So far, those negotiations have been unsuccessful. But talks are underway on the county-level to change the formula used to determine how much developers pay based on the expected impact of the development on area schools.
Others worried that viable land for a new school may be limited, especially when parking lots and aging office parks that could be the site for a future school are redeveloped into mixed-use projects.
Johnson said the county is closely evaluating the impact of each development proposal on fire services, schools, parks and other public infrastructure.
“We are keeping track of the cumulative impact, but, at some point, there will be a trigger for some type of development,” Johnson said.
When and how that trigger comes forward remains unclear.