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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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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