Plans for High School Parking Lot on Catoctin Elementary Campus Gets Pushback

For several years, Catoctin Elementary School has been the most crowded elementary school in Leesburg. The 52-year-old building has smaller classrooms than the county’s newer schools, but maintains similar class sizes.

But relief seems to be around the corner.

As the School Board prepares to adopt its Capital Improvement Program, or CIP—the six-year road map for the school system’s capital projects—senior staff members are recommending that Catoctin and Hutchison Farm elementary schools get three-classroom additions in 2020.

Catoctin parents and staff told School Board members at last night’s public hearing that that’s great news. But they also pointed out a concern in staff’s recommended CIP. That’s the suggestion from staff to build an overflow parking lot for Loudoun County High School students on the Catoctin Elementary campus.

Residents who live near the high school have complained for years about students parking on residential streets, leaving little space for people who live there to park. The four people who spoke during last night’s CIP public hearing asked that staff come up with another option.

“I think adding additional traffic to our campus, especially young inexperienced drivers—I speak from experience, I’ve had three of them—is especially dangerous for our young students at Catoctin,” said Judy Wasko, Catoctin’s bookkeeper.

She expects high school drivers, who have varied class schedules, will likely be pulling in and out of the lot throughout the day. She said the elementary school does not have staff to monitor the lot during the school day when elementary students are out of the building for recess or physical education.

Rita Welsh, a first grade teacher at Catoctin, said the area in which the parking lot is proposed is a treasured space for the school community. It is home to multiple trees that former students have planted over the years, as well as a monarch butterfly waystation. “It is an active living science lab that has provided the opportunity to raise and release over 400 monarch butterflies,” Welsh said.

In addition to raising concerns about the proposed parking lot, each of the speakers thanked school leaders for considering adding three classrooms onto the school building. “I am thrilled…We so desperately need this space,” Wasko said.

During the board’s work session later that night, School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said the board could consider leasing parking space from one of the churches that sits near Loudoun County High School.

Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent of Support Services, said he does not recommend the school system broker a deal with an off-campus facility, like a church, because it would be difficult to monitor students’ activity there. Marshall asked that Lewis find out from the school system’s attorney whether there would be any legal problems with it, and Lewis agreed.

“I understand we would have some liability,” Marshall said, “but we would have liability if they were parked over at Catoctin with respect to the children’s safety.”

The CIP, which includes projects to be funded from 2020 through 2025, calls for a total of $833.95 million in funding. If adopted as-is, it will fund three elementary schools, a new middle school, a new high school, several classroom additions, a student welcome and adult education center, and inclusive playgrounds at a few elementary schools yet to be determined.

See the full recommended Capital Improvement Program here.

Ahead of adopting the final program in December, the School Board will hold one more public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the school administration building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn. The CIP will then be sent over to the county Board of Supervisors as a formal funding request.

nadler@loudounnow.com
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