The Loudoun County School Board got some unwelcome news Tuesday that they’ll need several more school sites in the next 20 years than they had initially planned.
Loudoun County planners gave the board an update on how the recommended changes to the county comprehensive plan will, if adopted by the Board of Supervisors, result in a need for two additional elementary schools, an additional middle and an additional high school.
That’s because the 26-member committee of special interest and citizen stakeholders that was tasked with taking the first stab at updating the comprehensive plan—a road map for development through 2040—is recommending the county allow 15,000 more homes than originally planned.
Today, the county’s comprehensive plan envisions 180,000 homes in Loudoun at full buildout. As of 2017, 133,000 of those had been built, with another 29,000 already approved and awaiting construction. That would leave about 18,000 more that could be built. The new plan, as written so far, would increase that figure to 33,000 more over the next two decades.
“This triggers the addition of four new schools,” Beverly Tate, director of Planning Services for the school system, told the School Board during Tuesday’s work session.
The news left several School Board members frustrated because land in the Dulles North and Dulles South planning areas —that covers the southeast end of the county—is hard to come by. Plus, they stressed, most developers wanting to build large communities—such as the proposed Silver District West community with 3,706 housing units—only want to proffer an elementary school site, leaving it to the school system to find and buy larger sites for secondary schools.
“I understand that developers don’t want to proffer a site large enough for a middle or high school, but we need it somewhere,” Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said.
As is, the school system’s planners do not yet have sites for ten schools that the current comprehensive plan on the books requires. That includes one middle school (MS-14) for the Dulles North planning area that should open by 2025 to keep up with enrollment growth; plus, five more elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools that need to open between 2029 and 2049. Tate said her staff is urgently looking for land for MS-14, which will need to be purchased within the next 12 months in order for it to open on time.
“Is the county aware of that—that we’re looking at additional sites for schools when we don’t have sites for schools that we need in 10 to 20 years?” Hornberger asked the county government’s Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Alaina Ray.
“Yes, they are,” she replied.
Hornberger told Tate it may be time to consider expanding some of the middle schools, including Farmwell Station and Eagle Ridge. He acknowledged that that was not an ideal solution because that would result in more students at those schools’ feeder high schools, Broad Run and Briar Woods, which are already at or near capacity.
“No one wants attendance zone changes…But the idea of purchasing a site for a middle school in the next 12 months seems highly unlikely especially where we’re going to need that school,” he said.
Tate nodded in agreement.
School Board members Debbie Rose (Algonkian) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said county government staff should be working with school system planners earlier in the process to determine where schools can be built. They both mentioned that supervisors have asked them why the School Board doesn’t do a better job of planning school sites.
“I hear that a lot…like it’s our fault that we need to build new schools,” Rose said, referring to the county supervisors allowing more housing than was initially planned.
“We’re looking at this at the macro level, but we should also look at it at a micro level,” Turgeon added. “Look at transportation, where schools are needed, what types of schools, and matriculation of students as they grow. We should be talking about these details earlier in the process.”