Updates from Letty – March 3, 2017

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all of the feedback and engagement re: the tour of Wakefield High School. If you’re interested in seeing more schools – you’re in luck! We toured Alexandria’s Polk Elementary School this week, and I captured photos and notes again for another “virtual tour”. You may have heard us discuss modular construction as an option for the GMHS project; Polk used modular construction as well as modernized their facility with energy efficient technology. See the link below to find out what “modular” means, implications for costs, students, and future flexibility.

Also – while business on the agenda was fairly light this week in our City Council meeting, the beginning of the meeting and the City Manager’s report contained substantive discussions of topics that are important to follow – the safety of our children, Mt. Daniel construction, next steps on GMHS project, and annual reports from the CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation – the citizen board that handles your traffic calming requests and other transportation-related topics) and Planning Commission. If you’re interested in those areas, I encourage you to read on and/or watch snippets of the meeting.

Look forward to hearing what you think about Polk and any other questions or thoughts. We are off next week, but will be back to meeting on Monday, 3/13 when the City Manager presents the FY17 Budget and CIP.



What Happened This Week:

(1) City Council Meeting:

  • Annual reports – if you’re interested in transportation related topics like walkability, bike facilities, reducing traffic and speeding, I encourage you to read the CACT annual report and consider applying to join the committee! You’ll see they are an active and passionate group of citizen volunteers, who have accomplished a lot in 2016 and have great ideas for the coming year, including bicycling education campaign and wayfinding improvement. The Chair of the Planning Commission also gave their annual report, and highlighted their top goals for 2017 – which is to primarily focus on zoning and planning the GMHS site, beginning with the small area plan kickoff later in March; bringing in regional and national learnings; expeditiously and thoroughly reviewing the Mason Row application and other development projects.
  • Keeping our kids safe – while we cannot comment on the active criminal investigation of the MEH teacher, both the mayor and I spoke about the City’s commitment to keeping our children safe in Falls Church. In the City Manager report, the Assistant City Manager also provided an update on the steps the City has taken historically and and is doing going forward, including an official policy review of our hiring processes for all staff and volunteers in General Government. The City blog also has a new blog post with important information on recognizing signs of abuse, what to do if a child has told you they’ve been molested, and steps to protect our children. As we approach April – be on the lookout for events for Child Abuse Awareness month, which takes on great significance this year.
  • Mt Daniel – you may have heard the disappointing news that the bids for Mt. Daniel have come in around $2-2.6M higher than the original guaranteed maximum price ($15.6M). The increase is due to the delay while we sought approval from Fairfax County and rising construction prices. To keep the timeline on track to begin construction after the school year, a budget amendment to authorize the additional funds would need to occur very quickly – by mid to end of March. We heard from School Board Chair Webb that they are putting pressure on the contractors and exploring other revenue sources to plug the gap. The extra cost would need to be bonded, which would take up more debt capacity that will already be severely constrained with GMHS, City Hall, and Library projects. That said, the approved referendum authorized the City to bond up to $15.6M and we have only issued about $11.2M in debt as the remainder of the cost was planned to be funded by developer capital contributions, so the new $2M would not need voter approval again.
  • Other:
    • We deferred the Vision 2040 work to the 3/27 meeting to allow time for final revisions.
    • We also granted a new first reading for the sale of a small strip of land adjacent to Red Top Cab – back in January we had already discussed the sale of 7500 square feet land sale on Hillwood Ave. Due to final negotiations, we had to grant a new first reading.
    • GMHS Discussion – we voted to approve the statement of work to issue a RFP for a feasibility study for the GMHS project. The intent of the study is to assess feasibility of the school construction options and verify and modify the school program. Coming out of the feasibility study (RFP expected to go out ASAP, responses back in late March, architect selection in April, with work completed by June), we expect to have more detailed cost estimates and drawings that can be used to prepare for a November referendum. Timelines remain very aggressive, and we remain cognizant of the need to not sacrifice quality for speed.

(2) Polk Elementary Tour:

Members of the City Council, School Board, Planning Commission, and City and School staff visited Polk Elementary in the City of Alexandria. They renovated the existing school, added a modular construction gym and classrooms, and installed lots of sustainable, energy efficient technology throughout.

The cost of modular construction is similar to traditional construction, but the cool thing about modular construction is the short construction time and little to no disruption to students. Modules are constructed off site during the school year, foundation and site work can be done over one spring break, and the entire addition can be re-assembled and installed over one summer. As a result, Polk students were never displaced into trailers during construction.

Photos and captions with observations and learnings from the Polk visit are on my Facebook page.


What’s Coming Up:


  • Today, March 3 – GMHS Economic Working Group (730 am, City Hall Dogwood Room)
  • Monday, March 13 – City Council Meeting – City Manager presents budget (730 pm)
  • Monday, March 20 – City Council Work Session – Budget Review #1