Rte. 7 property owners pitch new option for Ashburn high school

by Erika Jacobson Moore

Leesburg Today

April 13, 2011

For months, since the Board of Supervisors hosted a community meeting in December, discussion over the potential site of the next Ashburn-area high school has centered around acreage on the National Conference Center property in Lansdowne. But another area property owner has come forward, announcing it has been working since last fall to be the school’s home.

Representatives of Lexington Seven, which is made up of 76 acres located north of Rt. 7 at Lexington Drive, revealed Tuesday they want their site chosen for Ashburn’s next high school, and have been working closely with Loudoun County Public Schools staff for several months on the possibility.

 “We think this is a great site for a high school,” Ken McVearry, regional director and associate partner with Capital Associates, said. “This really is a shovel-ready site. It is ready to go; we’ve got all the infrastructure in place.”

Zoned as a planned development office park for the past several years, the property is approved for more than 1 million square feet of office uses. That zoning allows for a school to be constructed with a special exception permit. While there has been little movement on the office park’s sale or construction, the property owner has been working continuously on the site’s infrastructure, putting in about $7.8 million in improvements.

“To date we have gotten all the approvals on the site. We have a road through it,” McVearry said. “We’ve got the sewer, water, storm water facilities including four ponds, curb and gutter; we even have a well on the site.”

In October the development company approached the school system to discuss the possibility of placing a school on the site. Once HS-8 emerged as a public priority for the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, around November, those talks resumed and have continued since.

Because the selection of and negotiations for a school site are ongoing members of both boards, as well as both staffs, declined to comment on any specific option. County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) would only confirm that the property owner had submitted its materials to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

In a letter dated April 5, Capital Associates made its case to the entire board, noting how far along the property was when compared with other sites. The company submitted its own side-by-side comparison to the proposed NCC site. That site is 46 acres, but according to information presented by Loudoun County Public Schools at the December community meeting, only 28 acres of the property are usable for construction, but that would be supplemented with 18 acres of the Belmont Ridge Middle School site, as well as a 12-acre park site adjacent to the middle school to create a campus between the two schools. The portion of the NCC site that would be used is where two of the facility’s parking lots are located.

In addition to the infrastructure already in place, the letter notes that environmental, geotechnical and archeology studies have been completed; almost $369,000 has been paid into the wetlands mitigation fund; and all subdivision plat work has been completed, which would be a time saver.

The company also has put together two potential configurations for the school, and its associated facilities, on the site.

“We told them we did not have any other money to begin evaluate. So they said, ‘we’ll do it.’ And they have really stepped up,” Sam Adamo, the director of Planning and Legislative Services for the school system, said, confirming discussions with the property owner have been ongoing.

Both configurations of the 1,600-seat school, which were created using the school system’s specs for a high school, show the main building located in the southwest corner of the property toward Rt. 7, and both plans show at least 800 surface parking spaces, with a separate area for bus drop off.

“In both scenarios that high school sits about as far away from Howard Hughes Medical Institute as you can be and about as far away from the 90 homes on the next property as it can be,” McVearry said.

One design places the football stadium along Rt. 7 on the east side of the property, with the two practice fields on the same side of Lexington Drive as the stadium and the school building. The alternative scenario shows one large parking lot, with the two practice fields closer to Rt. 7, and the football stadium across Lexington Drive along with the two baseball fields and additional parking. In the first scenario, the two baseball stadiums remain across Lexington Drive.

Both scenarios leave several acres available for parkland or other commercial development on the northern end of the property, McVearry said. With the stadium on the south side of the property near Rt. 7 there is around 11 acres available, and with the stadium moved across Lexington Drive there is about 5 acres, he noted.

While Lexington Drive cuts through the site, the Capital Associates has proposed a path under the roadway. Final transportation improvements, another important consideration for all school sites, is already underway, McVearry added. In addition to Lexington Drive, the property owner is working on plans for the connection of that road to Riverside Parkway at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. If that connection goes through as planned, Riverside Parkway would extend from the site through Lansdowne to the Rt. 15 bypass.

“No one will have to drive onto Rt. 7 to get to the school,” McVearry said. A first submittal of the road project has been given to the county, and responded to and the company is preparing to do its second submission in the next couple of weeks.

As Riverside Parkway ends at Lexington Drive, county plans call for a bridge stretching from that road, across Rt. 7 to connect with Russell Branch Parkway on the south side. There are no funds for the project in place, but McVearry said the school site, and Lexington Seven in general, has been designed to allow for that entrance and exit ramp without disturbing any planned development.

The property is located adjacent to the Potomac Farms, and the residential component of University Center is further east. McVearry said Capital Associates has plans to reach out to both communities, as well as Lansdowne and other impacted residents, soon to discuss the project.

“The people in Potomac Farms now only have one way out,” he said. “Now they’ll be able to come to that circle and they can go right and go all the way to Leesburg. It’s going to help them tremendously. And it is going to give Lansdowne a relief valve in the morning and in the evening. It is going to take pressure off Rt. 7.”

While not commenting further, York did note that the Lexington Seven site is not the cheapest site available to the county, but McVearry said any higher cost for the property would be offset in not having to conduct studies or install infrastructure, and noted the company had already dropped their price.

“We think our site will be the least expensive and easiest to develop,” he said.

It is not clear when the School Board and the Board of Supervisors will make their decision on the future site of HS-8, as discussions and negotiations are ongoing, but School Board member Robert F. DuPree (Dulles) opined that it has to happen soon.

“For any property, given the fact that there are many hurdles that have to overcome a site has to be chosen quickly if we’re going to have any hope of opening HS-8 in the fall of 2015 [as scheduled],” he said. “I have told supervisors that while I may have a personal preference on a site, I support them making a decision now…we are going to have to get legislative approvals from the Board of Supervisors. And this is looking like it is going to carry over into the next term, whatever site is chosen.”

 

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