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Moser: Fancy High School Design? What About PACE East?

I saw a photo of two schools (Two prototype schools. The one on top is Freedom, the one below is Patriot) The Prince William County School Board recently had to select which model the next (13th) high school should follow.

In my heart, I’m yearning for that big, beautiful, light-filled, elegant structure. I think the Freedom design looks dated, institutional, boxy and unfriendly. In my head I’m thinking the Freedom design is much less expensive. I’m also recalling the exorbitant cost of the 12th high school with all the bells and whistles, soon-to-be built at the intersection of Hoadly Road and Va. 234.

If Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) had saved the additional money from the pool and put that toward the 13th high school design, which is planned to be built in western Prince William County, we’d be close to even, wouldn’t we? Couldn’t we then have had two high schools built with the more modern design?

[Photo: Prince William County Public Schools]

[Photo: Prince William County Public Schools]

Now, in part because of the brouhaha over the 12th high school, the 13th high school is forced to accept less. But, wait! Is it less? Less than what?

It’s certainly not less than PACE East!  PACE East is on the right side of that photo. What kind of shining example of special education is THAT school? How can we even consider investing nearly $110 million in the 12th high school or $90 million for a 13th high school when we have a PACE school that looks like a correctional facility?

Am I the only one who feels ashamed that the beautiful Kelly Leadership Center is within sight of the Pace School? Do you think it is appropriate that special education students have to go out in the rain to get to the bathroom?

I’ve been in some schools that are showing their age. I know in America we treasure the new and shiny while we disregard the old and dowdy. I know the appearance of a building doesn’t reflect the quality of the teachers or the dedication of staff.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive to the appearance of the Pace School? I did have a parent tell me the Pace Students do not have iPads like so many other PWCS students have received. Is that relevant? Is that suspect? Does that confirm my sense that no one really knows or cares about that school at Independent Hill, save the children and parents who go there?

Nearly every day of our lives is a battle of some sort. Occasionally I come up against something that is just too big for me to handle. This is one of those things.

I’m sure PWCS will have an explanation for this. The people who do budgets and crunch numbers always have reasonable, logical explanations for my questions. Someone is going to have to explain to me why at the 45-year-old Independent School building, the PACE logo is displayed on the side of a utility shed instead of a monument sign and why those trailers that look like a prison are the solution to special education in wealthy Prince William County.

*This story has been corrected

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  • Al Alborn

    Excellent article Connie. While PWC continues to build embellished monuments to wretched excess, PACE goes unnoticed and without comment. The larger issue is whether or not people in our community care.

    Would the folks advocating for a pool in a school trade it to replace PACE? Trade sports fields? The parks I heard discussed at the last BOCS meeting? Buried power lines? Libraries? I could go on.

    I care. I’m outraged. I hope the community reassesses it’s priorities and encourages our elected officials to do the right thing.

    The “right thing” in this case is rather obvious. Among other “right things” might be some new faces on our school board, and the staff that runs our school system. Our BOCS could stand to be “shaken up” a bit also to ensure tax dollars go where they are needed the most, not where they are requested the loudest.

  • George Harris

    Thanks for this article Connie. After seeing the pictures you posted on FB, and reading the Washington Post article about PWC’s shameful approach to providing programs for pre-K kids, I wrote to the Editorial Board of the Post suggesting they look into the PACE East situation. I don’t know if they will or not, but perhaps more public clamor will get their attention. Perhaps you could send this piece to the Editorial Board of the Post to see if you can generate more interest on their part. New faces in old places may also help but by the time elections come around, I wonder how many folks will remember egregious things like this. Some folks are praising Pete Candland’s budget proposal but even that does nothing for PACE East or the overbuilt 12th high school. Our county government seems powerless to do anything to change what is going on with that school. Why is that?

    • Hi George…it may be better if you sent this to the Washington Post. Since I’m writing for Potomac Local, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to do so.
      I’m thinking there will be quite a bit of public clamor if people share this article. That photo is a powerful tool.
      Thanks for reading.

  • gatorj

    Has anyone been able to obtain the costs for all the high tech, sexy looking, exterior finishes on the proposed school. What about the costs of same for the interior. Why not get some prices to put up a simplified exterior and interior. The kids are there to learn.The proposed design looks like the PWC public school system is trying to win a design award. Montgomery County, MD, put up an addition to Walter Johnson Sr.High complete with lots of expensive metal design treatments. I do not believe it improved the test scores. But the addition looks great. Costs great also.

  • Thank you for writing this article Connie. I have some updates. The students at Pace East will be moving into the current Independent Hill School (IHS) in 2016. The current IHS students are being moved to base schools for several reasons; one of which is the poor physical condition at their current school. The Pace East students will remain there for 2 years and then move into a newly constructed, permanent building where the trailers are today. The new building will be roughly the same square footage as an elementary school and will house three schools; Pace East, New Dominion and New Directions. These changes present a whole new list of concerns but will require another complete article to explain.

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