Will School Renovations Hurt Environment?

Consultant finds stormwater and other environmental issues in FCPS' plans for Sunrise Valley and Terraset Elementary Schools.

An environmental consulting firm has found many flaws with Fairfax County Public Schools' plans for renovation and expansion at and

Both of those schools, which are more than 30 years old, are scheduled to be renovated nest year as part of

Mike Rolband, president of Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., says he is "hopeful that higher-level school people will revise the plans" before construction begins. He says that the renovations at several years ago were done with a "total disregard" for the environment. This time he is hoping to have an impact before it is too late, he said.

Among his concerns:

* The renovations increase the peak flow and volume of stormwater runoff – damaging downstream channels. 

"We requested that the increased water be detained so that peak flow rates are not increased, and so that any increase in volume is offset by a decrease in rate," says Rolband.

* The renovations increase the pollutant loads as measured by Total Phosphorous but utilizing a method currently allowed in the Fairfax Public Facility Manual – but not in the new state stormwater management regulations (approved – but not mandated to be used until 2014 – and then there are grandfathering provisions).

"While the plans say they reduce the pollution – the calculations do so by getting credit for recoding preservation easements on undisturbed lands," said Rolband. "While the PFM gives credit for that – in fact – that is a paper exercise and it does nothing to reduce pollution from the expansion. So the actual impact on the water in the streams and Reston will be more pollutants – and for example – increased algae bloom potential in our lakes."

* FCPS' plans demonstrate a lack of commitment to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment loadings into local waters and the Chesapeake Bay, said Rolband

"Fairfax County, regardless of what the schools do – will be required by DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) and EPA to achieve this," said Rolband.

* The plans conflict with Fairfax County’s longterm environmental leadership.

Rolband points out that the county recently increased the stormwater tax from 1.5 cents to 2 cents per $100 of real estate value to reduce stormwater pollution.

"While the county spends millions to retrofit existing impervious areas with stormwater management/best management practices (SW/BMPs) and to restore damaged streams – it is also funding school expansions that will increase impervious areas without appropriate SW/BMPs and thus pollution and damage our streams."

Rolband says he was told last week that the schools will work with Fairfax environmental officials to incorporate better stormwater controls in these plans. But he also said that he had a direct meeting with school officials, who were not receptive to his findings.

"The school board staff [said] they are trying to spend the least possible amount of money and any money spent on stormwater management is taking money away from their mission," says Rolband. "[They said] If we insist, they will just expand and renovate schools elsewhere in the county where they are not required to do stormwater management - and then we will make all the parents mad."

FCPS spokesman John Torre said FCPS chief operating officer for facilities planning Dean Tisdadt and County Supervisor Sharon Bulova recently met with Rolband.

 "We obviously disagree with the suggestion that FCPS lacks a commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and the environment," says Torre. "Mr. Tistadt attended a recent meeting called by Sharon Bulova to discuss this issue and indicated that FCPS has thousands of children in trailers and thousands more in schools in serious need of renovation. "

"As such, we have to prioritize our spending," said Torre. "We do not ignore the environment by any means as evidenced by our estimate that we spent about $35 million last year for environmentally-related costs - cool roofs, energy efficient chillers/boilers/rooftop units and stormwater management. Another example would be the energy efficient features used in the construction of the new Mason Crest Elementary School." 

Elizabeth English, principal at Sunrise Valley, said she is confident the renovations will proceed on schedule.

"FCPS officials assure me that Fairfax County is working with FCPS, and renovation is on track to begin in the Spring of 2013," she said.

were scheduled to go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission in June, but have been postponed indefinitely. The planning commission must recommend approval to the Board of Supervisors, which has final say in the go-ahead of projects.

The Reston Association Design Review Board will discuss the Sunrise Valley plans at on Aug. 21 at 7 p.m.

The Reston Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the The Terraset renovation is on the schedule for the  county planning commission on Nov. 29.


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Chipperson August 13, 2012 at 10:59 AM
The engineering firm doing the plans was the lowest bidder - this is what you get
Bruce Wright August 13, 2012 at 12:33 PM
One reason for the stormwater remediation is the addition of impervious surface for more parking, over and above the county requirement, and more paved area for kiss and ride traffic. Why don't we encourage more kids to walk and bike to school and discourage parents from driving? At a minimum we could encourage more parents to use buses that are provided for most of the kiss and riders.
Michael Sanio August 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Sincerely appreciate Michael Robland stepping up and speaking out, Reston Schools should be models for what Fairfax County Public Schools can do to advance sustainability, taking into account the environment, community needs and economics.
John Farrell August 13, 2012 at 01:10 PM
The elimination of the existing green roof at Terraset is regressive and contrary to current green design standards. The expansion of Terraset to accommodate 900+ kids is educationally irresponsible. The accepted maximum size of an elementary school, by all educational experts, is 550. FCPS' history is to overcram each of their schools. If design capacity is 900+, Terraset's boundary will shortly be enlarge to accommodate 1,000 kids. The justification that the Metro development will create the demand for the extra 500 seats in nonsense. High rise development does not generate large numbers of elementary school age kids for two simple reasons: Mom wants her kiddo to have a yard to play in and doesn't want her tike to take a high dive off the 10th floor balcony. Therefore, a Terraset of 900+ seats is a school that must have its boundaries enlarge to double its current attendance area. Add to that a principal who hasn't been in an elementary school classroom since she graduated from the 6th grade and you have a formula for educational failure. Terraset's population has high proportions of ESL and FRM kids. They need a school with expert educators who know every student not a warehouse for OJT! Pat Hynes, you have to stop this travesty, now!
J Anderson August 13, 2012 at 01:20 PM
So what is causing all this impervious surface? Is it just the roof of the addition or are parking lots being expanded? are there substantially more sidewalks? are kiss & ride's being expanded? are more playgrounds being added? That would help us understand the issue better from a storm water runoff standpoint? FWIW - I was at the Reston PC meeting when the FCPS architects presented a second time and they said the KissNRide was being changed to handle 10 cars in line presently to 34 double stacked? What does that mean?
Frank Sogandares August 13, 2012 at 01:20 PM
This is a very legitimate concern for all on Lirio Court. There's a loooong ditch on or behind most of the properties on the "odd-numbered" side of Lirio Court. It's the result of insufficient, old-school stormwater management practices at TES. My house is one of those that backs up to TES. Part of my backyard is a 20 foot wide ditch that's 8 feet deep in some places; the ditch is between 1/4 and 1/3 of my back yard and is useful as a dump for lawn waste (but I'd rather have a back yard). This is a long-term result of poorly managed stormwater from the TES parking lot. In the 90s the county fixed the stormwater problem itself, but of course the ditch never filled itself or reclaimed my back yard. When I mentioned this to the architect at an RA meeting he seemed surprised to hear that his diagrams weren't accurate, and when I invited him to take a peek, he seemed genuinely interested in seeing the problem first hand. I have, however, been party to no further dialogue on this. I think this is a serious problem (it clearly affects property values). While I'll readily concede that something is needed at TES, I also think it's important that the project do no further harm to taxpaying properties - mine in particular.
John Farrell August 13, 2012 at 01:27 PM
When you double the size of the seating capacity of the school and eliminate an existing green roof, stormwater is going to massively increase.
J J Madden August 13, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Pat Hynes please remind Mr. Tidstadt that expanding Kiss and Ride is doubly wasteful because it greatly increases runoff plus squanders transportation dollars by making it easier for parents to drive kids to school who are all already assigned to a taxpayer-paid-for yellow bus or are classified as walkers.
Frank Sogandares August 13, 2012 at 02:06 PM
yeah... well.... some of those buses have just a few kids on them.
Pat Hynes August 13, 2012 at 08:48 PM
My response is too long for this page, so Karen Goff generously offered to run it as a letter to the editor, coming soon. Thanks to all for the conversation. Pat Hynes Hunter Mill Representative to the School Board
RareRestonRationalist August 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Can we put the pitchforks down for a minute? Take a look at who's raising these concerns. One of the companies heavily involved in the Reston Stream 'Restoration' project. The same project which tore down hundreds of healthy trees, created ponds of stagnant water (West Nile, anyone?), and created large weed farms in 'restored' areas. Now, they assert that a stream that they restored can't handle the runoff. In addition to those concerns, which are valid, we need to ask questions of where they were in thinking of what surrounds the creeks they worked on and the future around it. FCPS just didn't come out on a whim to have Terraset worked on, it's on a schedule. While Pat Hynes has done a great job in addressing these concerns extremely quickly, we, as Reston residents must ask some very pointed questions at those behind the Reston Stream Restoration project.
John Farrell August 14, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Kim, not to interrupt your questioning of Mr. Rolband's integrity and competence, but: Do you have kids at Terraset? I've had 4 go through the school. Did you know that Terraset and Terra Center in Burke werre originally built with money from the Saudis as an ecologically advanced building with a green roof and passive solar panels? Should the taxpayers of Fairfax pay good money to remove that green roof when the Sustainability folks are trying to get developers across the country to incorporate them into their designs? Do you think 900 elementary kids from vulnerable demographic groups should be crowded into one elementary school?
RareRestonRationalist August 14, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Yep, I've got kids at Terraset. The place is an embarrassment to FCPS. Whenever I go there, I'm reminded of an old submarine movie with all the neglected maintenance and how things are shoe horned everywhere. I understand the experiment that the school was, and I understand how elements of the design, though noble, didn't work. The place needs a facelift, and our kids deserve better than what's offered. We question the new sizing as well, but status quo won't work. Lot's of good comments are in this thread, but the origin of the articles concerns (and the motives) should be questioned and held independent of the needs of the school.
RareRestonRationalist August 14, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Crazy Patch commenting system. Please read Mr. Farrell's comment before my reply to him.....
John Farrell August 14, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Kim I was in Terraset this year. There are multiple FCPS schools in far worse shape. Walk through West Springfield High School sometime or its contemporaries. Terraset's interior layout was a product of an architectural fad, like South Lakes former layout, and I'm glad we agree that it needs to be replaced. But expanding the seating capacity to 900 kids is not an acceptable solution. I would have hoped you would have agreed with that.
Lisa August 15, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Being a victim of poor stormwater management in this county (not because of a school renovation project), I can attest to the damage it can cause to surrounding homes and wildlife. I can also see that adequate buildings are needed for education. There needs to be a middle ground and the architect/designer should take this as a challenge to do the right thing. Otherwise, these kids we are educating now will be left to clean up the mess later on when they're the ones paying taxes.
B Deering August 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
FYI. The County Planning Commission has postponed indefinely a decision on Sunrise Valley Elementary School expansion. The School Board has been told to come back when they have a plan to detain storm water on site. At last night Reston DRB meeting, RA'S Larry Bulter reported that he and Mike Rolband had met with Sharon Bulova and a member of the School Board staff. Larry said that he is now hopeful that the School Board will develop a on site detention plan. Yes, the School Board had originally skipped the Reston Design Review Board and had gone to the Planning Commission first.


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