FCPS: SLHS Headed Toward Severe Overcrowding

Capital Improvement Plan features expansion of high school and possible new high school in western part of Fairfax County.

In the last five years, South Lakes High School has gone from one of Fairfax County Public School's smallest high schools to bursting at its renovated seams.

The growth, which puts South Lakes at 109-percent capacity utilization for 2012-13, is projected to put capacity at 140 percent by 2017-18, according to the FCPS Capital Improvement Plan, released last week.

The latter number would make South Lakes the most overcrowded school in the county.

Capacity utilization refers to the percentage of capacity that is being utilized by a building based on the building’s program capacity and the number of enrolled students. A school is considered overcrowded when the enrollment of the school is higher than its capacity.

The issue has vaulted SLHS close to the top of the list for change, which could include building a new high school in the western part of the county. That change could include a large new addition at SLHS, as well as capacity additions at Oakton and Herndon High Schools to alleviate South Lakes' overcrowding, says the CIP report.

South Lakes underwent significant renovations and then was part of a contentious redistricting project in 2008. Because the school had available space and other nearby schools were overcrowded, the boundaries were redrawn and hundreds of students moved from the Westfield High School district to SLHS.

Within two years, though, enrollment larger than expected and several trailers are now on the grounds to add additional space. South Lakes' enrollment is currently 2,325. Projected enrollment by 2017 is 2,983, according to FCPS' analysis.

The county's CIP runs in five-year cycles. Reston-area schools that are at the top of the list for improvements for the cycle ending in 2014 are Terraset and Sunrise Valley elementaries. Both will be expanded and renovated beginning in 2013.

Because FCPS does not currently own a site where a new high school could be located, the system will allocate $10 million for site analysis, according to the CIP report.

FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale says in the CIP that between September 2011 and 2012, total FCPS membership grew by nearly 3,000 students and that the number of students has grown by over 17,000 since 2006.

Dale says the increase in enrollment is due to the economic downturn and higher birth rates among some populations in Fairfax County. He predicts enrollment, particularly in the elementary schools, will continue to rise rapidly.

"Membership is projected to continue to increase over the five-year CIP horizon to over 195,800 students by school year 2017-18," he wrote. "Since September 2006, growth in enrollment has occurred in most grades, but especially in kindergarten and the early primary grades. Altogether, elementary school enrollment has grown by approximately 12,000 students since 2006, accounting for 70 percent of the total enrollment growth during that time period. 

"The current and anticipated increases continue to present a major challenge as the school system struggles to provide sufficient capacity in our schools," said Dale. "Despite the planned additional capacity intended to address projected capacity 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."

To see the entire CIP report, click here.

For the 2014-18 CIP cycle, FCPS is proposing:

* Two new elementary schools needed in the Richmond Highway Corridor and in the eastern area of Fairfax County.

* The anticipated need for two other new elementary schools in the Fairfax/Oakton area and in the western Fairfax County in the vicinity of Route 28 and the Dulles Airport Access Road is also reflected in the proposed cash flow beyond FY2018.

* The potential new high school in the southwestern portion of the county to provide relief to overcrowding at existing high schools such as Centreville, Chantilly, and South Lakes.

Says Dale: "Finding funds for new schools is going to cause delays in the schedule of many future renovation projects. Favorable construction pricing is helping mitigate these delays but they will occur if the school system does not receive additional capital funding from the Board of Supervisors."

* The five-year CIP budget will total $871.2 million or roughly $174.2 million per year. The five-year requirement represents roughly 48.4 percent of the $1.79 billion total CIP cost for FY2014-FY2023, says Dale.

Funds approved in the 2011 School Bond Referendum and previous referenda will address approximately $190.8 million of the five-year requirement leaving a balance of $680.3 million unfunded.

"We anticipate a bond referendum in the fall of 2013," said Dale. 

* Reston's which recently completed a large expansion and renovation, is at 96 percent capacity now, but is projected to be at 122 percent capacity by 2017-18. Hunters Woods Elementary is currently at 121 percent, but even enrollment projected to drop, it is still expected to be overcrowded at 117 percent in five years, the report shows.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the FY 2014-18 CIP at 6 p.m. on Jan. 7 at Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church. 

The Board has scheduled a work session on Jan. 14 and will vote on the CIP at its business meeting on Jan. 24.


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Peter Burke January 02, 2013 at 06:03 PM
The original Reston Plan called for a high school on the Baron Cameron Ave fields next to Aldrin Elemenary on Wiehle Ave. It would take the pressure off South Lakes and Herndon High School.
John Farrell January 03, 2013 at 04:28 AM
This overcrowding was not the product of residential construction within the SLHS attendance boundary, despite what you may hear to the contrary. There has hardly been any new home construction in that area during the Great Recession. When FCPS was forcing Floris & Fox Mill into SLHS, I predicted that, based on FCPS's own numbers, SLHS would be overcrowded in 5 years and that the trailers would return. I was wrong. The trailer came back in 3 years. This result was entirely foreseeable and its denial, at the time, was outright perfidy by all of those who denied the obvious 3rd grade arithmetic. These same people want to now jam 1200 kids into Terraset based on mythical residential development within its attendance area. FCPS facilities planning staff are either incompetent fools or dishonest brokers of misinformation. Either way, they have demonstrated that they are thoroughly unreliable.
John Farrell January 03, 2013 at 04:32 AM
That property was turned over to the County Park Authority and is now known as Baron Cameron Park.
Scott Chronister January 04, 2013 at 12:11 AM
Below is an email sent to School Board members on February 27, 2008--before the redistricting vote. The email warned that redistricting would create overcrowding (enrollment projections of 2,750 students) and would bring us back to another redistricting debate to try to fix the overcrowding created by the 2008 redistricting within five years. The attached graph shows that the combination of future development in the South Lakes attendance area and program adjustments could result in increased enrollment that would obviate the need for redistricting. By addressing program issues and moving students into South Lakes, as recommended in the staff option, there is a potential that South Lakes could see enrollment levels approaching 2,750, potentially putting South Lakes at 130 percent of program capacity. PLEASE VOTE NO to redistricting. South Lakes under-enrollment can be addressed without needlessly disturbing schools, disrupting communities, and displacing children. If we truly are going to address the programmatic issues at South Lakes, we will be back here again in five years. The only worse outcome would be to move our children and not address the programmatic issues at South Lakes. Again, please VOTE NO.
jomarsh124 January 07, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Rational arguments that South Lakes would be over-crowded (using Staff's own numbers) if the Tisdadt/Stu Gibson/South Lakes PTSA redistricting went forward as planned didn't could overcome the pro-redistricters worldview that anyone opposed to the redistricting was just a racist. Turns out we who opposed the redistricting could count; but, I don't expect to get any apologies.


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