Excitement, anticipation as renovation nears

The long-awaited school renovation will begin this winter


Catherine Kane, Editor-in-Chief

Hammers will soon be swinging, drills will be piercing the ears of students in classes, and hallway traffic will be maneuvering around construction during bustling passing periods. The long-awaited school renovation will begin this winter, and teachers, students, and administrators are preparing for the $130 million project to get underway.

Following the approval of the school bond referendum on November 2, the school district will begin the bid advertisement process to hire a general contractor to build the renovation. In the coming months, trailers will also begin to pop up between the practice fields on the south side of the school. These trailers will serve as a “home base” for the construction crews who will be at the school grounds. 

The renovation will take over four years to complete, with a projected finish in fall of 2025. A new science wing and music wing will be the first to be built, as they constitute the “new construction” elements of the project. No part of the building will go untouched: hallways, classrooms, the gym, courtyards, bathrooms, and the library will all be remodeled and updated. Once completed, the building will expand from 303,413 to 429,000 square feet, a 41% increase; and will increase capacity to 2,500 students. 

Floor plan via Perkins Eastman
Floor plan via Perkins Eastman

Although he will have long since graduated by the time the renovation is completed, Auric Vo (12) is excited about the “gloomy hallways” being done away with. Complaints about the amount of sunlight the hallways receive also resonated with Tess Achtermann (11), who described them as “gross and old.” Tess also has concerns about what construction crews might find in the walls because of the building’s age. 

Enrollment numbers at Falls Church have grown year over year for the past ten years. Chart via FCPS Facilities and Transportation

The building was constructed in 1959 and capacity enhancements were made in 1989, over 30 years ago. Three surrounding schools, Justice HS, Annandale HS, and Marshall HS, were renovated in 2005, 2010, and 2018, respectively. Lingering questions remain as to why it took so long for the school to get renovated; Diego Rivera (12) expressed concern about the condition of the facility, especially after a wall buckled his freshman year in 2018. However, he is grateful for “the money and attention” being brought to the school with the renovation. 

Construction crews will work around the year and around the clock to stay on a tight schedule for the renovation. Crews will be working during school hours, which will likely cause disruptions to learning and passing periods. Assistant Principal Peter Lake, who is taking the lead on the project, is looking ahead to the challenges of the next four years. While he believes that “mold is likely” to be a concern and that mice will have easy access to exposed areas of the building, the exterminator will be on speed dial. He asked that students be flexible, a skill Falls Church students “are consistently very good at,” and to expect bumps in the road. 

Though students will have some classes in the trailers over the next four years, “you will never have a teacher that starts in one trailer then goes to a different trailer, then back into the building,” Mr. Lake said. The students in The Pod will never have to move into the trailers and there will always be at least one functioning elevator for students who cannot take the stairs. 

Sports and performing arts activities will carry on during the renovation. Major facilities, such as the gym and auditorium, will be renovated during the summer months in order to limit disruption to student use during the school year. During Nora Cunningham’s (9) first season on the JV volleyball team, it became quickly apparent to her that the school was in need of an update,  “The locker rooms bring the charm; but they also bring the funk.” 

Art student Franchesca Daza (11) thinks the charm of an old building is what makes the school special. She loves the painted ceiling tiles in the art room done by the AP Art students over the years. Franchesca is hoping that in the chaos of construction, the student-painted ceiling tiles in the art room will be preserved and re-installed in the new space. “I want to make sure those types of things get saved.”

Student painted ceiling tile in the art room