High-rise elementary school opens in Va.

Classrooms in the high rise elementary school have ergonomically-designed chairs that wobble and walls that students can write on, Platenberg says. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Here is one of the learning wings in the high rise elementary school. The multiple areas vary in color. (WTOP/Megan CLoherty)
This classroom has a view. At some angles of the school, students will see planes taking off and landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Here is the outside of Bailey's Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
While the school has exercise rooms that act as gyms inside the building, there is no green space outside. Kids will have recess in this asphalt area. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — It was controversial when overcrowding at a Fairfax County elementary school prompted the county to look at a nearby high- rise as a possible solution.

Bailey’s Elementary was supporting 1,300 students in one building that were encroaching on every space in the school, including a repurposed library and 19 trailers.

Despite some parents’ concerns, what looks like a nondescript office building will now serve as an upper school for some kids in Falls Church.

“Bailey’s will have pre-K to 2nd, and here we’ll have kids 3rd through 5th,” says Marie Lemmon, principal of the new Bailey’s Upper Elementary School of Arts and Sciences.

While it is certainly different, the multi-level school’s floors and stairwells are color-coded in an effort to make it easier for students to navigate. The end of the halls also have creative reading, studying and presentation areas.

Indoor exercise rooms, science labs, a production studio and expansive classrooms set it apart from an average school layout, says Jeff Platenberg with Fairfax County Schools.

“People had legitimate concerns about the concept, the vision. Some people couldn’t wrap their heads around it,” he says.

As the assistant superintendent for facility and transportation services, Platenberg worked with the community, many of whom had valid concerns over the non-traditional learning environment, he says.

“In this region, there’s not much land. There’s no green space so to speak. So we had to come up with a creative solution,” he says.

Fairfax County is facing rapid growth in many of its neighborhoods, which is causing overcrowding in some schools, Platenberg says.

“For a while, we were leveling out. But over the past five years, by growing by approximately 15,000 students, that’s about 3,000 students a year, Fairfax County is growing,” Platenberg says.

Bailey’s upper school is a mile up the road from Bailey’s lower school. The two buildings will share a principal.

Lemmon’s largest concern going into the first day of school is students’ orientation. She expects students will have questions and says staff will be ready both at the open house and on the first day to escort kids to their classrooms.

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