Building infrastructure worsens as renovation remains far in future

Improvement plan does not include support for McLean renovation

Pools of water in the bathrooms, a roof leaking from multiple locations and an aging heating system are just a few indicators of an outdated building. The FCPS Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) allocates millions of dollars each year for construction and renovation of schools. For the 2023-27 school years, $180 million will be spent to improve schools across the county, but McLean High School is not included.
Renovations are planned on a queue and McLean is not expected to receive funds to be fully renovated until 2050. McLean was constructed in 1955 and last renovated in 2005, creating concerns that there will be increasing structural and maintenance issues.
“[The aging building] is a huge issue. I know that the students are concerned with the bathrooms, as we all are, because it is not pretty in there,” school finance technician Jennifer Hill said. “There is definitely work that should be done.”
McLean was the last school in Fairfax County to be renovated using an outdated method, in which repairs for separate portions of the building were contracted out to different companies. The segmented process resulted in functional issues as the school aged. After McLean’s renovation, the process was improved to ensure that future schools were renovated more effectively.
“They would take a part of the school and bid it out to a company…and then they would bid out the next section of the school,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “That is probably why we have air conditioning and heating problems—there was a disconnect between the two companies.”
McLean’s renovation was less thorough than other schools, yet placed the school at the end of the queue. FCPS is considering altering the allocation of renovations, but it is unclear whether this will impact McLean.

We definitely need help in this building. It’s hard on the custodians and for students. We just need updates all around.”

— Principal Ellen Reilly

“[FCPS] is getting ready to do a new renovation queue based on new criteria, one of which is overcapacity,” said Nora Molnar, a McLean parent representative advocating for building improvements. “I believe that under the new queue, because of the capacity problems, we’re going to be moved up higher in the next queue.”
McLean finance technicians have a few options to fund small projects while awaiting a full renovation. The school can submit a work order form when there are plumbing and structural problems or use money the school raises through community use. Community use funds are typically for small improvement projects, such as the installation of new blinds, that would not otherwise be paid for by the county.
“Community use is the money that we make from hosting events for outside [groups] in our school,” Hill said. “We get to keep a certain amount of the proceeds, which is 15% but is changing to 25%.”
FCPS has issued guidance regarding the number of students all school buildings should be able to accommodate.
“The school system has what’s called an education specification (ed spec). The ed spec says the ideal capacity for every school in Fairfax County is 2,500 students. Our capacity without the mod was like 1,992 students; with the mod it’s still not 2,500 students,” Molnar said. “Being in the biggest growth area, we shouldn’t be treated like we’re a little school and then doing these piecemeal, expensive fixes.”
The CIP released by FCPS states that with the modular building, McLean is currently at 107% of capacity and will decrease to 105% of capacity in the 2026-27 school year.
“[FCPS] made a prediction that McLean is going to lose students…or be relatively flat,” Molnar said. “That prediction is contradicted by their own documents, which show hundreds, if not thousands, of students coming to this area.”
An error in this prediction would be highly problematic because the school board relies heavily on the CIP projections when making decisions about the allocation of funds for renovations.
“I’ve been working with the school board to [learn] why, on the one hand, documents show somewhere between 600 to 1,200 students coming to this area while the CIP shows a flat growth if not a loss,” Molnar said. “They haven’t been able to answer that.”
Poor building conditions and overcrowding have been significant causes of concern for administrators and students.
“Just look at our floors, those are an indication…the pipes are going, our heating and air conditioning issues are just constant, somebody’s always looking at it,” Reilly said. “We definitely need help in this building. It’s hard on the custodians and for students. We just need updates all around.”
The @mclean.rot Instagram account was created by students to document areas of the school that are in need of renovation.
“We need more classrooms that are well equipped within the building,” said the @mclean.rot account owner, who asked to remain anonymous because of post content. “It’s unacceptable that we’re having thousands of kids that are coming every day into a school that is not physically equipped [to accommodate them].”
Recent problems that have been addressed include the aging roof and building capacity.
“They worked on the roof during [last] summer and they’re going to work on it this coming summer,” school finance technician Mary Bartenfeld said. “There are improvements being made, with the mods that are new, but none of that [was decided] at the school level.”
McLean has received funds for the replacement of the roof over a four-year period. As McLean waits for the roof’s completion, however, there are frequent issues that require immediate repairs.
“At the blue hallway, there’s a huge roof leak. The custodians are cleaning that up a lot whenever there’s rain,” Reilly said.
Urgent issues at the school are repaired, but the long-term cost and effort that is put into making frequent repairs may outweigh the resources that would be needed to renovate the school altogether.
“Our roof is leaking all over the place,” Molnar said. “The amount of money it’s going to take to repair the roof or to replace the roof…is an absolute waste of money.”
Efforts to enlarge or renovate the school building have been halted by issues within the school board.
“The most frustrating part has been the politics on the school board; you have school board members who wield their power and serve their own interests. It’s political,” Molnar said. “That’s very frustrating because it shouldn’t be political. The ed spec is neutral—2,500 students per school.”
Students have expressed their concern with the lack of initiative to improve conditions at McLean.
“If you don’t have to live with [poor school conditions], then you’re allowed to pretend it doesn’t exist,” the student behind @mclean.rot said. “We have to live with it and we don’t have the ability to pretend it doesn’t.”
It appears FCPS has the funds to renovate McLean as a result of the proffer system, a process in which the county receives funds for each new student in areas that are being converted from commercial to residential.
“The proffer is more than $12,000 per new student. I’ve done some FOIA requests, and they have millions of dollars in proffer money to spend for the capacity enhancement,” Molnar said. “We have the money, and we have the need; the modular and the boundary change did not solve the problem. We still have trailers, and we need a permanent brick and mortar addition.”
As the county considers updating the order in which schools will be renovated, there is concern that McLean will again be passed over.
“Every school probably thinks they need something new. I always worry that somebody’s going to push ahead because a parent group [elsewhere] is more loud,” Reilly said. “I worry about getting pushed aside because we don’t have the largest voice or the loudest voice.”