Manassas schools finalize Jennie Dean replacement

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Manassas City Public Schools have settled on a design for the new Jennie Dean Elementary School, with plans to break ground at the start of 2025.

On Tuesday, School Board Chair Suzanne Seaberg announced that the division had selected Arlington-based RRMM Architects for the project. The company will use a prototype design used for Hardy Elementary School in Smithfield.

Crews will break ground on the building at some point in 2025, and the new school will be ready for the start of the 2026-27 school year. According to Seaberg, the hope is that work will begin on school at the start of 2025.

The building will go up adjacent to the current Dean school, which will remain intact for the time being as officials decide whether to attempt to repurpose it or possibly tear it down. Cost estimates for making the necessary renovations to the current Dean building have also grown in recent years.

“I can assure you that the School Board is not interested in even discussing demolition at this point. It’s just not important to us,” Seaberg said. “We own that land and we don’t own much land in the city of Manassas, so it’s good for us to protect that, and if some day it could be renovated to be a functional building, whether that be another school, whether it be a central office, whether it be a community center or staff housing. It could be used for a lot of different things.”

Plans for the new elementary school — funding for which has been a point of contention between the City Council and School Board for years — have also been downsized somewhat, from capacity for around 1,100 students to just 900 in the final design. School Board members say its capacity will meet enrollment projections for the pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade school and will have room to eventually be expanded if necessary.

“It was larger,” Seaberg told InsideNoVa. “But something that’s always in our mind is some day we’re going to have to have land, so we could build on this school if we needed to.”

In selecting RRMM, the division abandoned a previous plan to use the same general design as Baldwin Elementary School over increasing cost estimates. The estimated price tag for that design had ballooned to over $87 million when the division decided to issue a new request for design-build proposals with a budget of just over $62 million — the original capital improvement program number — in March. The school system received three bids under budget, including RRMM’s.

In June, School Board members went to the Tidewater area to tour schools, including Hardy, which is still under construction but about 80% built.

Preliminary renderings for the new Dean school have yet to be released, but Seaberg said it will be two stories.

At a recent joint meeting between the School Board and City Council, as officials said they were nearing a final contract agreement for the school, members of both bodies said it was a show of how the council and School Board could work well together. But ongoing discussions around staff pay and a permanent central office building for the division promise to test that.

“We have to do this, we have to get where we want to be,” Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger said. “It shows how we are able to come together and get things done.”

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