FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WJLA) - When Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences was bursting at the seams, school officials got creative and converted an empty office building into a new schooljust in time for the upcoming academic year.
Officials are now waiting to see if turning a Leesburg Pike office building into an elementary school meets the approval of some of their most important constituentsFairfax County parents, teachers, and the students themselves.
Entering the new school is like walking into a high-end, brand-new, luxury apartment building, but one filled with all the tools needed for teaching in a school where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
"This is so above and beyond and unexpected," said Principal Marie Lemmon. "I think the kids are just going to be over the moon. I know the teachers already are."
In this case, serious overcrowding was the mother of invention. Bailey's Elementary was at 130-percent capacity, with 19 trailers outside the original building. Now, the former office building will serve as the campus for roughly 700 students in grades three through five, having been completely converted in just 21 weeks' time.
Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Transportation Jeff Platenberg has spent billions building new schools in his career, and was a major champion for this out-of-the-box $20 million vertical concept, an idea that initially took some convincing for skeptics.
"You start talking about you're doing it for children, you're doing it so that they have the best places to learn, and you do it so that teaching and learning is conducive for that environment, it's amazing how people start to change their attitudes," Platenberg said.
Now, the students can spread out. Their spacious cafeteria comes with a killer view and special birthday booths. The library has traditional books and computers, but also ergonomic chairs specially designed to help fidgety kids focus. It may be hard to focus in science class, since the view includes takeoffs and landings from Reagan National Airport.
"It took a space that some people might not know what to do with and made it a real asset for learning," Lemmon said.
School officials will have to wait until this week's open house and the first day of school on Sept. 2 to see what parents and students think about the unusual, yet innovative new building.
Though the school community will have to deal with Leesburg Pike traffic, administrators insist finding a new campus anywhere in the area would have included dealing with traffic.