- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The chairman of the Fairfax County School Board said he disagrees with estimates that the county’s schools will suffer a minimal burden as the number of jobs at Fort Belvoir nearly doubles by 2011.

Chairman Daniel G. Storck called the estimates “shortsighted.”

“What they’re looking at is a short-term view of that, very short term,” said Mr. Storck, who represents Mount Vernon District. “That’s not what’s going to happen as jobs relocate and people make decisions about where they live. In my mind, they’re just wrong, flat wrong.”

As a part of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan, up to 22,000 Washington area jobs will be transferred to Fort Belvoir and the nearby Engineer Proving Ground in southern Fairfax County by 2011, bringing the total number of jobs at the military installations to nearly 45,000.

Consultants hired to oversee Belvoir’s transition said most of the incoming employees live within an hour’s commute to the base and will not need to relocate to Fairfax County.

“If someone were able to snap their fingers and have all 22,000 new people here tomorrow morning, there would be virtually slim to no impact on the schools and housing because these people are already settled in across the region,” said Don Carr, director of public affairs for Fort Belvoir.

Mr. Carr estimated that 95 percent of the incoming employees already live close enough to commute to the base. He also said 6,000 jobs were leaving the area as a result of BRAC, which could reduce the effect of Belvoir’s job gains.

The crowding, he said, will occur on roads to the base, not in county schools.

Mr. Storck takes a long-term view.

“The reality is that a typical company’s employee turnover rate is 15 to 20 percent a year, and we’re looking at three to four years minimum” before BRAC takes effect, he said. Those positions could be filled by people from out of the area who want to live close to their work, he said.

“Particularly as the traffic around the base gets congested, their commute time is going to skyrocket and people are going to make decisions that they don’t want to commute 45 minutes,” Mr. Storck said. “I think they need to hire a demographer. I think the people in our community deserve to not be surprised and not to be left holding the bag for a massive transportation problem and schools that are inadequate to meet the needs that will grow up around the increases in employment.”

Mr. Storck said he wants specific demographic information that would allow the School Board to anticipate the increase in enrollment resulting from Belvoir jobs.

Fairfax County has 984,366 residents, according to the 2000 U.S. census, and its public school system is the largest in Virginia, with 164,295 students.

Mr. Storck said many schools on or near Fort Belvoir were operating at capacity or were overcrowded. Fort Belvoir is in the Mount Vernon District.

The School Board in January passed a five-year, $795 million capital-improvement plan that sets aside $1 million to address changes from BRAC.

Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat who serves as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, agrees that the influx of employees will create a transportation problem but sees no evidence of a major effect on area schools.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell, who represents the Springfield District, said the high cost of real estate in the county could deter some families.

“I think they’re going to have to plan for it, but I don’t think it’s going to be a terrible impact,” said Mrs. McConnell, a Republican. “I see this as something that will slowly need attention and planning.”

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