The Madeira School on May 26 received the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s unanimous support for its special-exception application to add a new science building, more housing and modernized equestrian facilities.
“The goal of this application is to continue the school’s mission to provide the best educational experience possible for the students, with the best facilities and the best teachers and staff,” said David Houston, the applicant’s attorney, at a May 19 public hearing.
The application would raze several existing facilities and replace them with larger ones. Madeira’s approved 2002 long-range master plan allows up to 523,618 square feet of gross floor area, 37 residential units for faculty and staff and seven accessory-dwelling units. The current proposal asks for 518,255 square feet of gross floor area, with up to 45 residential units and up to 12 accessory-dwelling units.
STEAM Building: The school seeks to construct a new, three-story building for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) education. The structure would be up to 45 feet tall and have 23,374 square feet of space, plus a 9,850-square-foot cellar.
The STEAM building would replace a 8,800-square-foot science facility and its unbuilt 12,960-square-foot addition in the same location. The existing building, constructed in 1974, has exceeded its useful life and was poorly designed and sited at the school, Houston said.
The STEAM building would incorporate architectural features designed to prevent birds from crashing into its large windows, officials said.
Other improvements associated with this part of the project include an expanded courtyard and retaining walls up to 16 feet tall behind the STEAM building. Because the building’s construction would disturb 1,290 square feet of land in a nearby environmental-quality corridor, the school would compensate with an equal-sized area elsewhere on the site.
Equestrian Facilities: The application seeks to raze the existing 11,702-square-foot stables (and an unbuilt 6,695-square-foot addition) and build in the same area a 20,000-square-foot stable up to 50 feet tall and a 58,000-square-foot indoor riding arena up to 40 feet tall.
Madeira also seeks to add an 80-foot-diameter, up-to-40-foot tall “hot walker” for exercising horses and regrade an existing nearby riding paddock to correct drainage and erosion problems. The school would build a retaining wall ranging from 2 to 20 feet tall around the enlarged riding facilities.
Faculty Housing: Madeira wants to raze a single-family home called The Laurels and the school’s health center and in those locations build seven four-level, stacked townhouses – with a total of 14 units – for faculty and staff. Madeira would move the health center to an existing studio-arts building.
The townhouses would rise up to 45 feet tall, not have garages and be located 650 to 1,200 feet away from the school’s property lines. Because of hilly topography and existing vegetation, the units likely would not be visible from adjacent properties, officials said.
The school already has 23 single-family houses and five apartment units and has approval for four more single-family units and five apartments, which have not been built.
Madeira’s proposal would give younger faculty members and their families the chance to live on campus, said Planning Commission member John Ulfelder (Dranesville District).
“It is difficult for young faculty to find housing anywhere near the area where the school is located that isn’t very costly, and therefore they’re facing long commutes,” he said.
Some who attended the May 19 public hearing argued against razing The Laurels, which consists of two log cabins that were moved to the site in the late 1980s and fused together.
The cabins do not have historical relevance to the school and are in poor condition, having required nearly $130,000 in upkeep and repairs since 2007, Houston said.
School officials have agreed that before razing the The Laurels, they would offer the joined buildings to people who are interested in historical preservation and willing to pay for moving them.
New Farmhouse: School officials also wish to replace a two-story home called The Farmhouse with another two-story, single-family detached residence of up to 5,000 square feet. It would be up to 30 feet tall, located about 150 feet the school’s entrance and visible from Georgetown Pike.
Madeira also would build underground stormwater-detention facilities next to the STEAM building’s expanded courtyard and under the loop road next to the equestrian facilities.
Founded in 1906 in Washington, D.C., by Lucy Madeira, the all-girls private school in 1931 moved to its nearly 376.2-acre campus at 8328 Georgetown Pike in McLean. Madeira is allowed up to 338 students, half of whom are boarders, and 105 faculty and staff.
The campus has a 4,800-foot-long frontage on the Potomac River and about 85 percent of the site would remain open space under the proposal.
The school’s sewage-treatment plant runs at half or less of capacity and even if all the proposed new elements were built, it would not be taxed anywhere near its full capacity, Houston said.
The Board of Supervisors on June 8 is slated to take up the application, which is supported by the McLean Citizens Association.
Ann Maclean, a Class of 1989 alumna and former Madeira faculty member, at the May 19 hearing advocated for preserving The Laurels and reducing the size of the new Farmhouse to 3,000 square feet. Madeira’s proposal is too intensive and goes against its founder’s ethos, she said.
“It is clear to me the school has strayed not only from its strategic plan . . .but also that it has strayed from the original vision of Ms. Madeira, who emphasized substance over appearances, who instilled in her girls a love of nature and the great outdoors,” Maclean said.
Robert McGuire, who lives near the school, lamented the likely loss of The Laurels, but said the larger Farmhouse would serve as a magnet for visitors.
“All of this is pure goodness,” he said of the application.