High School Campus Project: Planning for Economic Development

The City Planning Department has undertaken a "Small Area Plan" to engage the community and neighbors in planning for economic (or commercial) development on the high school campus.

The Site

The George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School campus is approximately 34 acres at the corner of Leesburg Pike and Haycock Road. As the City has considered the feasibility of constructing a new or renovated high school, it has also explored offering a portion (up to ten acres) of the campus for commercial development to help pay for the school.

Under the terms of a 2013 Boundary Adjustment with Fairfax County, the campus was brought into the City limits with an agreement that 70percent of the campus would remain in educational uses and that no more than 30 percent of the property could be put into commercial use. The Boundary Adjustment was important for two reasons:

  1. It allowed the City to have control over the zoning for the site and
  2. It means that any taxes resulting from commercial development are paid to the City.

Map of the Campus

Campus Map

Joint Planning Process

The City government and public schools worked collaboratively to figure out the best use of the land. the School Administration has focused on future school facilities, playing fields and athletic facilities, and the City Planning Department has focused on potential commercial development on up to ten acres (30 percent) of the campus.

Feasibility Study and Small Area Plan

In the spring of 2017, the School Board hired the architectural firm of Perkins Eastman to conduct a feasibility study. This study identified options for a school location based on the schools program needs. At the end of that process, the preferred option was the "Community School," located to the north west of the existing Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

High School Rendering

High School Rendering 16X9_opt
At the same time, the City's Planning Department proceeded with a Small Area Plan with the assistance of three grant-funded consultants to assist with urban design principles, transportation concepts, and geothermal heating and cooling. Several public meetings have been held to date in this planning process, resulting in a draft conceptual plan for the site as shown below.

This plan shows the location of the Community School option as identified in the School Feasibility Study, along with roads serving the site, a new practice field, and a series of blocks that would be suitable for commercial development along a central promenade or greenway that connects Haycock Road to the schools.
Commercial Site Concept
The Small Area Plan also considers the larger context of the development of the high school campus with neighboring properties, including the entire area west of the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. This includes the UVA-Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center, the West Falls Church Metro Station, and properties to the east and south east of the site.
Draft Concept Map

Past Planning Events & Activities

In chronological order.
  • 2013 – Citizens approve referendum to sell Falls Church Water System to Fairfax Water. This agreement includes bringing the GMHS campus into the City of Falls Church. The land received from requires 70% of the land be reserved for educational purposes and no more than 30% for commercial development.
  • 2014
    • Joint Campus Process Planning Group is approved by School Board and City Council. Membership includes School Board, City Council, Planning Commission & EDA representatives.
    • Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel (ULI TAP) provides suggestions on placement of school buildings, commercial development location and type, collaboration with neighboring sites.
  • 2015 – Public/Private Partnership Process; the City receives an unsolicited proposal to build a high school and commercial development of a portion of the campus. The unsolicited proposal is not accepted, but the City Council and School Board issue a Request for Proposals to allow for a competitive Public Private Partnership process. The City receives two bids in response to the RFP, and after consideration, the bids are not accepted.
  • 2016 – Community meeting/staff and student focus groups held on “The Shared Vision for Schools of the Future,” including architectural, environmental sustainability, and other factors. American Institute of Architects presents a show of School Design, sharing boards about 25 groundbreaking school design around the world.
  • Spring 2017
    • School Feasibility Study is conducted with the architectural firm of Perkins Eastman.
    • An Economic Feasibility Working Group is formed to develop a strategy to bring to market the commercial property. Membership includes members of City Council, School Board, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority.
    • The City hires the firm Alvarez and Marsal to advise the Economic Working Group. Alvarez and Marsal provides a Valuation Report and a Strategic Marketing Roadmap for the 10 acres.
  • Summer 2017
    • West Falls Church Transportation Study is completed with the assistance of a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) grant and Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates. The intent of the study is to accommodate travel demand to, from, and within the site; better connect the site to local and regional transportation facilities; and increase accessibility and street crossings nearby.
    • Urban Design Guidelines is completed with the assistance of a Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment Urban Development Grant. This document provides a preferred urban design concept to serve as a guiding framework for the economic development portion of the site.
  • Fall 2017
    • Geothermal Feasibility Assessment is completed with technical assistance through the US Department of Energy Climate Action Champions Program in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and MWCOG.  The study was conducted since it could provide a direct and immediate impact on the design and implementation of the school project, it has the potential to serve as a national model for climate and economic resilience, and it could build the capacity of local governments to implement geothermal across the region.

Recent Community Meetings

Most recent first.

  • June 10, 2017 – Small Area Plan Community Meeting #2 
  • March 25, 2017 – Small Area Plan Kick-off Community Meeting
  • February 23, 2017 – Area Stakeholders Meeting including VDOT, County representatives, Uva and Virginia Tech, WMATA, neighboring property owners
  • February 4, 2017 –Community Meeting about three preferred options – “build new”, “build new in two phases”, and “renovate and expand”. There was community preference for “Build New” option with continuing concern about affordability.

Next Steps

  • Planning Commission Briefing of Draft Plan – September 18, 2017
  • Continue public engagement
  • Complete Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Re-zoning – first quarter 2018