Solution to overcrowded school: buy an office building - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Solution to overcrowded school: buy an office building

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What do you do if you have a very overcrowded elementary school in a built-up suburb? Well, in the case of Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Fairfax County, Va., officials have bought a $10 million office building. They plan on turning it into a school by this fall.

Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences is an unusual public school. The Arts and Sciences magnet program offers classes like drama and "creative movement."

Bailey's is also one of the county's language immersion schools. Students in that program learn all their math, science and health in Spanish. Language and social studies classes are taught in English. Both programs are quite popular.

And on top of those magnet programs, the neighborhood near the school is exploding with immigrant families, few of whom can afford private school.

Bailey's has about 1,360 students -- that's 130 percent of its physical capacity. The library was cut in half to generate more classroom space.

We asked principal Marie Lemmon, "Why don't you just bring in portable classrooms?”

"We have done that," Lemmon replied. "We have over 19 portable classrooms, plus a ten-room modular [wing]."

That's a total of 29 classrooms that are outside of the main building at Bailey's. It's a logistical nightmare for teachers.

"We don't have running water," sighed fourth grade teacher Elise LaPointe. "So we have to come inside whenever we have to do science, or drink water, or go to the bathroom -- anything."

Why didn't prosperous Fairfax County buy some land and build another elementary school near Bailey's? It's a question we put to Assistant Superintendent Jeff Platenberg, who plans for facilities and transportation in the huge school district.

"Most of the places we found, we couldn't build on," explained Platenberg. "Because of the terrain, the costs associated with it, [or some spots] were former dump sites. This list goes on and on about why no other option was viable."

So to relieve the overcrowding at Bailey's, Fairfax County Public Schools is trying something totally new. The school district has just purchased a $10 million office building on nearby Leesburg Pike. Classrooms, a cafeteria, and exercise rooms will be built into the five-story structure. And the entire third, fourth, and fifth grades will be moved there starting in the fall.

The construction deadline is very tight. The school system closed on the sale of the building in December. Interior demolition and construction is scheduled to begin his month.

That leaves only about six months to turn the five-story office building into a functioning school.

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