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Falls Church HS not scheduled for renovation until 2024 | Health

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Falls Church HS not scheduled for renovation until 2024
Health, Schools
Falls Church HS not scheduled for renovation until 2024

Falls Church High School hasn’t had a major renovation since it was built in 1967 and isn’t scheduled be upgraded until 2024.

More than 100 parents came to a meeting at the school on a bitter cold night Thursday to express their frustration with school officials for failing to put FCHS on a faster track for renovation. The meeting was organized by a group called UPROAR (United Parents for Renovating our Academic Resource).

UPROAR co-founder Lynn Petrazzuolo showed the audience slide after slide depicting the grungy, and in some cases, unhealthy, condition of the learning environment: Chemistry labs with outdated and nonworking equipment and poor ventilation; poorly equipped classrooms that lack overhead projectors and wiring to support the necessary technology; and a music department with insufficient practice space and lockers that are too small for instruments.

The restrooms have stained floors, missing tiles, undersized toilets, partitions that are too low, and stained sinks. A couple of parents at the meeting said their kids won’t even go to the bathroom at school.

The locker room for visiting teams has a moldy ceiling, missing tiles, exposed pipe, and broken areas covered with cardboard and duct tape, Petrazzuolo said. It has group showers “like we had in high school, but which are no longer acceptable.” The athletic trainers’ room doesn’t even have a working ice machine, and the weight room doesn’t have hot water. Everywhere you look, there is mold, insects, and peeling paint.

“This is the face of our school. This is what visitors see,” she said. “When our large population of disadvantaged students visit other Fairfax County schools, they wonder why their school is not good enough,” a FCHS English teacher added.

It’s not just about having a school that looks nice; there are real educational and health concerns. Petrazzuolo cited statistics showing “a correlation between building condition and student achievement and behavior.” Studies have shown “test scores are lower in schools in poor condition.”

Teachers have complained about unreliable temperature control that results in classrooms that are either “burning hot or freezing cold,” she said. The room for students with physical disabilities is so cold students have to be draped in blankets; in other rooms, the air conditioning doesn’t work and the doorknobs are too hot to touch.

So with all these substandard conditions, you’d think FCHS would be first in line for renovation. You’d be wrong. The school is actually 45th among 63 schools in the “renovation queue.” Considering the Fairfax County Public School’s (FCPS) budget, that means FCHS won’t be renovated until 2024.

That’s become schools that are overcrowded are given priority for renovating, and FCHS is under capacity. Meanwhile, hundreds of students transfer out of FCHS every year because of the school’s poor condition. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Principal Cathy Benner.

Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of the FCPS Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, told the audience the annual budget for facilities projects  is $155 million, while it needs $205 million to $210 million.

To set priorities, Tistadt said, a consulting firm has established the renovation queuem, which is based on “completely objective criteria that prevents the process from becoming politicized.” When there are two schools in the same condition, he said, there’s a “compelling, logical argument” that “the school that’s overcrowded should get renovated first.”

The renovation queue will be re-evaluated in 2013, and Tistadt told the audience “it will be to your advantage” if the data show an increase in enrollment. But a looming charter school proposal has raised concerns that enrollment could actually decrease at FCHS.

The proposed Fairfax Leadership Academy would be housed at the FCPS building that will become vacant when Graham Road Elementary School moves to a new facility. If the FCPS school board approves the charter, FCHS parents and administrators worry it would draw students away from their school. If that happens, Tistadt acknowledged, FCHS “could actually drop in the queue.”

One parent complained that FCPS would divert funds to the charter school that could be better spent renovating FCHS. According to Tistadt, FCPS would not provide any funds to renovate the Graham Road building. Per-pupil funding from FCPS would, however, follow students to the charter school.

Many parents at the meeting expressed frustration with the poor conditions at FCHS. One parent called it “completely unacceptable” that a school should have “third-world standards” in one of the richest counties in the United States. Another asked the FCPS leaders in the room if they “would want to work in a building” with substandard conditions. One woman said her daughter sometimes has to wear a coat in class and her allergies have gotten worse.

“Health and safety issues should be addressed immediately,” Tistadt said, but “there is a big difference between aging, unsightly conditions and unhealthy conditions.”

School board members Sandy Evans (Mason) and Patty Reed (Providence) told the audience they agreed FCHS is long overdue for renovation and urged parents to take their concerns to the other board members.

Several FCHS parents are expected to speak to the school board about the sorry state of the school at a hearing on the FCPS Capital Improvement Program on Monday, Jan. 9. The hearing, at Luther Jackson Middle School, starts at 6 p.m.

Health, Schools