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Terra Centre School Expansion Moves Forward

County staff and community members shared information Wednesday evening.

parents met with county officials Wednesday night to discuss the school's $16.6 million planned expansion. 

"Tonight's meeting is not a decision making meeting. It's an information meeting for sharing back and forth between the school and the community," said .

Once the plan is finalized, the county's planning and zoning staff will make recommendations to the Planning Commission, an advisory group of citizens.

"That means there will be at least two more chances to formally comment and ask questions, as both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will provide community information meetings," said Cook.

According to Sunny Sarna, a project engineer in the Fairfax County Public Schools' office of Design and Construction Services, about 20,000 square feet will be added to the school. "It will include the addition of a library to the front of the school, a mechanical room and an administration area," he said.

Principal Michele Sims said staff at the school wanted more traditionally shaped classrooms and doors, while the community wanted to retain the underground look and connection to the environment. "We're even adding a parent volunteer room so that parents may have a space, a home, inside the school," she said.

"The school's interior will undergo a comprehensive improvement to bring it up to current county and school board standards," said Sarna.

Sarna said the plan will also add ADA access to the ball fields and the Kiss and Ride, improvements to the traffic flow pattern of the Kiss and Ride area and 26 parking spaces to the school's lot. 

Members of the community said they'd like more parking at the school. "It's really about access to the school," said one father. "We really don't want people parking in the neighborhoods." He suggested a better crosswalk so that people could park across the street in the shopping center and cross Burke Centre Parkway safely to access the school.

Cook said his Burke Centre Parkway Pedestrian and Motorists Safety Task Force presented a plan in August 2011. "We'd like a project of this magnitude to be consistent with the recommendations in that report," he said. "It would be helpful for the task force to compare the school design with the task force report, and make recommendations to benefit both," he said.

"I'm begging for a winkomatic," said Molly Field, a member of the Burke Centre Parkway Pedestrian and Motorists Safety Task Force and the parent of a Terra Centre student.  "Over a six month period, 408 drivers were ticketed along Burke Centre Parkway at speeds averaging 57.8 miles-per-hour," she said. The posted speed limit is 40.

Former Braddock District School Board Member Tessie Wilson denied Field's Request, but Field is reissuing it because she believes the time is right for a positive outcome. "Several members of the school board, including Ms. Wilson, who did not seek re-election, have been replaced, and several members of the task force support this measure," she said.

Fairfax County received its first ever Safe Routes to School grant as a result of the task force's work. "That grant gives this request traction," said Field. She said several projects -- the new sidewalk for student use adjacent to the school's Kiss and Ride, the grant which will provide a pedestrian refuge island in the median at Burke Centre Parkway and Marshall Pond/Schoolhouse Woods Roads, and the improvements to the Kiss and Ride lanes -- all contribute to pedestrian safety, but leave a major point lacking. "You're engendering pedestrian access to the school, but we're not doing anything to slow anyone down," she said.

Field said depending on the type of winkomatic purchased to slow traffic in the school zone, the cost would range between $30,000 and $70,000. She considered that well within the county's $16.6 million school renovation funding.

Planning for Terra Centre Elementary's expansion is still in process, and Cook said this was the best time for the public to provide input. 

The plan is tentatively scheduled to come before the Planning Commission on April 18.  It will then go to the Board of Supervisors for approval. Construction is expected to begin in early 2013.

"It is expected the renovation will take about 24 months over phased construction," said Sarna. He said phased construction is common practice at county schools. "There may be temporary classrooms in trailers outside during construction," he said. Because the phasing plan will not be completed until after the design plan is approved, Sarna was not able to more provide details.

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