In a county that’s opened 20 new public schools in the past two decades, not one groundbreaking ceremony has been held.
That changed today.
School and county leaders, as well as several students, gathered on the 120-acre construction site and future home of the Academies of Loudoun to celebrate a milestone in the decades-long effort to bring the specialty high school to fruition.
“This is special,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said. “There’s nothing like this anywhere in the country.”
The Academies of Loudoun, slated to open in the fall of 2018, will house expanded versions of the existing Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center, as well as a new program, called the Academy of Engineering and Technology. The 315,000-square-foot building along Sycolin Road south of Leesburg will have space to serve 2,500 students who attend classes there every other day or 1,250 students per day.
“This is a great day,” Superintendent Eric Williams said. “The Academies of Loudoun will bring students together to innovate, to explore, to research and collaborate as they solve real STEM problems.”
Local leaders have said the academies could rival Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County. Loudoun foots the bill, at more than $13,000 per student, to send about 250 students there each year.
“We’re going to bring all our kids home from Thomas Jefferson,” Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said, with many gathered nodding in agreement. “This is monumental.”
The project’s designers, Stantec Architecture, ventured far beyond the school system’s prototype school building designs to create a facility that will feel more like a miniature version of the Apple Campus in Cupertino, CA, or Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn.
It’s designed to encourage collaboration among the three academies. There will be no wings or isolated hallways, and instead, most of the academies’ labs, classrooms and workspaces will open up into a large gathering area at the center of the building. That area, called Innovation Commons, will double as a dining area and as a venue for a variety of events, from robotics competitions to award presentations.
“In designing this facility, we actually toured various facilities from community colleges and makerspaces to the HHMI facility at Janelia to see how our facility could best fit our emerging vision for The Academies of Loudoun initiative,” Hornberger said. “That’s what we’re achieving here.”
Bowman Consulting is the civil engineer firm on the project, and it is being built by Holder Construction Company.
Even before the first excavator was in place at the site, leaders in the school system, the county and the business community started to craft curriculum for programs that will be housed there. Much of that effort was to create the brand new Academy of Engineering and Technology, which will begin classes this fall. Until the new academies campus opens, that program will operate out of Tuscarora High School in Leesburg.
And Loudoun high schoolers have already taken interest in the program two years before it will move into its permanent space. More than 600 students applied for the academy’s 150 seats. Eventually, it will have space for close to 750 students, according to Hornberger. It will provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics pathways for students with an emphasis on engineering, entrepreneurship and information technologies.
The Academies of Loudoun campus also will provide much-needed space for the Academy of Science and Monroe Technology Center, two of the county’s most popular programs, to expand. The Academy of Science has operated out of Dominion High School since it started in 2005. Monroe Technology Center, which opened in 1977, offers a variety of vocational programs, from auto collision repair to practical nursing.
Talk of opening a large learning center of this kind of facility started not long after Monroe Technology Center opened in Leesburg, according to Science Supervisor Odette D. Scovel.
“As soon as Monroe was built, we knew there’d be a problem with capacity,” she said. “There’s just so many more students who want that type of programming than we have space for.”
But, that need took the backseat to a more urgent matter—building and opening elementary, middle and high schools quick enough to keep up with record-breaking enrollment growth.
The previous School Board and Board of Supervisors, that served from 2012 to 2015, made it a priority to fit the $115.12 million Academies of Loudoun project into its Capital Improvement Program. And voters overwhelmingly approved the bond funding in 2014.
“This project is a long time coming, and it took a lot of work from a lot of people to get to this point,” Hornberger said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “But the real work is just beginning.”
He encouraged business leaders to consider how they want to get involved, from sponsoring lab space, providing internships, judging competitions or just sitting down with educators to talk about what skills the future workforce needs.
“Through community-based projects and collaboration we can better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace,” Hornberger said. “We’re at a place to do something exceptional here.”