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FairfaxEducationExpansion of Louise Archer takes another step forward

Expansion of Louise Archer takes another step forward

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Fairfax County Public Schools’ plan to renovate and expand Louise Archer Elementary School got some necessary boxes ticked March 21 when the Vienna Town Council unanimously approved a series of site modifications.

The school system plans to build a two-story addition toward the school’s rear, renovate the rest of the school and add parking spaces on both sides, increasing the school’s tally from 78 spaces to 105.

The Council granted the school system these modifications:

• The school, which is zoned residentially, will be permitted lot coverage of about 53.5 percent – more than double the 25 percent usually allowed in residential zones, but typical for institutional uses, town officials said.

For example, the new police station at 215 Center St., S., will cover about 70 percent of its lot, said acting Planning and Zoning Director Michael D’Orazio.

• Louise Archer Elementary will be allowed a tree-coverage rate of 6.4 percent, less than one-third of the usually required 20 percent. Town code allows such a reduction for dedicated school sites, D’Orazio said.

County school officials had considered eliminating one of the school’s two softball fields to bump up tree-canopy coverage to 7 or 8 percent, but community members at meetings wanted both ball fields to remain, he said.

Council member Charles Anderson worried about ongoing tree-canopy loss in the town and said he hoped school officials could find a way to achieve canopy coverage of 10 to 12 percent, possibly by planting some of the additional trees at other locations, possibly including adjacent James Madison High School’s property.

• Instead of the usual maximum entrance width of 35 feet, the Council granted Louis Archer Elementary widths of 37 and 47 feet because buses will be using the site.

• The school also will be permitted to have smaller loading areas and 25-foot-tall light poles, which exceed the usual maximum of 10 feet for lots that abut residential areas.

Those lights, which are comparable to ones installed at some other elementary schools in Vienna, will have shields that eliminate light spillage on surrounding properties, D’Orazio said.

The school system is building modular classrooms toward the rear of the site, which students would occupy temporarily during construction.

The school already has a modular-classroom building, which was approved in 2005, and two temporary trailers. The Town Council for years has chafed at having to grant temporary approval for such facilities, some of which have been on the site for decades, detractors said.

The project still must achieve another major milestone. The Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals on April 20 will consider whether to approve a conditional-use permit for the proposed modifications at Louise Archer. After that step, it’s full steam ahead.

“We’ve been waiting 20 years for this,” said Council member Howard Springsteen, whose children attended the school. “I’ve not been impressed with the county [in] how quickly they’re moving on this.”

“I’m very happy to see my elementary school renovated,” added Mayor Linda Colbert, a Louise Archer alumna.

Colbert complimented Fairfax County Public Schools staffers for working with the town’s Board of Architectural Review to improve the school’s new design.

Bidding for the project will occur May 25. Construction likely will begin in June and take 24 to 26 months, county school officials said. The school’s current façade and some interior spaces will be retained for historical purposes, they said.

Louise Archer Elementary, named after its first principal, started in 1890 as the Vienna Colored School. The current school, located on 8.13 acres at 324 Nutley St., N.W., was built in 1939. The Town Council on Jan. 24 added the school to the Register of Vienna Historic Structures, Sites and Places.

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