Photo courtesy of: Greg Land

Northern Virginia’s George Mason High School: A 21st Century School

June 27, 2019 by Deisy Brangman

George Mason High School (GMHS) is the only public high school serving the City of Falls Church, Virginia. Constructed between the 1950s and 1990s, the sprawling building no longer meets the needs of the community. Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) sought a 21st century learning facility that accommodated the projected enrollment growth (845 to 1500 in 30 years) of their US News top-ranked school. After decades of community advocacy, in November 2017, residents approved a $120M bond for the construction of a new high school. Since May 2018, B&D has been serving as the Owner’s Representative, advising FCCPS on the procurement, design, and construction of the future Heart of the City.

B&D, in collaboration with FCCPS and the Gilbane / Stantec design-build team, has advised the development of a flexible design that looks ahead 30 years and can adapt to changes in enrollment as well as pedagogy. What cutting-edge spaces are needed today? What might education look like down the line—and how do you prepare for a future you can’t predict? The design includes an innovative structural grid that will allow expansion and contraction of spaces as needed as well as contemporary concepts like collaboration areas, maker spaces, fabrication and variable intensity learning labs, and flexible learning studios.

Sustainability has also been key. The 5- to 7-story building will be LEED Gold Certified and Net Zero Energy–ready. B&D is aiding FCCPS in the procurement (and associated design collaboration and review) of a power purchase agreement (PPA), for the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels at no cost to FCCPS and the City, with the long-term goal of net zero draw from the power grid—and possibly contributing back.

A PPA is one of multiple project funding sources contemplated to be utilized. Preceding the 2017 bond referendum, the City explored a traditional public-private partnership for the project, but the financials could not fund 100% of the new school’s construction cost. The City then pursued and is currently engaged in an economic development partnership that is proposed to have a private developer build out ~10 acres of the site with hotel, residential, office, and retail use mix. The land lease proceeds will help pay back a portion of the $120M bond, reducing the future tax burden on City residents.

The success of the design’s development is directly attributed to notable community engagement. The project team has held 250+ meetings with teachers, students, staff, community members, and FCCPS and City leaders. Every question and comment submitted (over 600… and counting!) has been recorded and responded to publicly.

This inspiring and unique project is already getting national attention. At the recent Association for Learning Environment’s (A4LE) School Safety and Security Symposium in Dallas, FCCPS, Stantec, and B&D discussed how the design balanced strategic zoning and security measures with a modern open learning environment. View the presentation.


To learn more about the project, you can also visit FCCPS’s site detailing the process or watch this video of the May 14th Falls Church School Board Special Meeting and Work Session.

"From community relations through the heart of construction and planned completion, we have been blessed by just the right counselor who provided exactly the wise counsel we needed at precisely the right time. And we have even had fun in the midst of a very challenging process."

David O. Treadwell, Executive Director
Central Union Mission

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