Pave or Save? The Fight for Justice Park

Pave+or+Save%3F+The+Fight+for+Justice+Park

By Brooke Ehmann – Jones

June 30, 2021

Cicadas buzz as new growth pops up to reach the sun and 100-year-old-trees spread their branches wide in the canopy of Justice Park. Little do they know that their thriving home could be paved over if the School Board’s proposed plan goes through. Justice High School is getting an expansion because the school is 26% over capacity. It will be receiving a cafeteria addition, 3-story classroom addition, science labs, modeling and tech lab spaces, special education labs, and chemical storage. This much-needed addition will allow the students and teachers to be more comfortable at Justice and allow more students to attend the school. However, the expansion will take up some of the existing parking space, and since FCPS has a regulation that for a certain number of students and staff there must be a certain number of parking spaces, new parking must be made. Where will they find the space? FCPS says the solution is Justice Park. 

 Rendering of classroom addition at Justice HS.

Justice Park is an 18-acre park located across from Justice on Peace Valley Lane. There are already tennis courts, a basketball court, a playground, open space, and a baseball diamond in the park. The rest is a forested area, part of it overrun by invasive species. The school board’s plan is to pave over part of Justice Park for additional parking space at Justice. Because of the Fairfax regulation, Justice would need 750 parking spaces for its population, but the school board saw that that was too great a number and worked with the county to lower that number to the minimum number of spaces that FCPS must provide in order to have the addition, that number is 367.

 

Though there have been some other alternatives proposed to the school board, such as a parking garage, parking on Peace Valley Lane, or even parking at a nearby empty church parking lot, there have been safety concerns and reasons why those options were not feasible. That is why the only existing plan is to pave over part of Justice Park. However, this solution has not sat well with many community members, including those that are worried about the park itself. 

 

Carol Turner, a resident neighbor and leader of the invasive plant removal volunteer group, and Kathleen Brown, a Justice parent and member of the Justice PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association), voice their opinions against the paving over of Justice Park. They both investigated when they first heard about this plan and were concerned to find that it was very hard to find information about it. “There has been utter and complete failure by both the park authority and the FCPS facilities and transportation to provide any meaningful communications at all about this. Which is quite shocking. . . In 2021 with climate concerns, equity concerns, most people that use this park are people that don’t have yards,” says Kathleen Brown. Ms. Turner pointed out that the construction would have lasting effects on the environment and would take about 3 years to complete. The community would not be able to use the park for that whole time. “The right decision is not to take parkland that’s finite, we can’t get it back, and especially in this part of the country where we have many people that need to have a park. This is a precedent setting. We have talked to a previous planning commissioner about this, and he said he’s never heard of this happening before. So, if they do it with this, they can do it with other parks. If the school needs the space, they will take it. So, we really need to stop it,” says Ms. Turner, voicing her opinion on the matter. Carol Turner and Kathleen Brown, along with other park activists held an event at the park on June 5th to gather support and share ideas about alternatives for parking. 

 

Ricardy Anderson, the Chair of the Fairfax County School Board and Mason District Representative, works with the school board to come up with solutions for problems brought to their attention. Equity issues and overcrowding are big issues on her agenda, both seen in this Justice Park case. Ms. Anderson says that the goal of the school expansion is to allow more students at Justice, she says she gets many letters from the students about how crowded it is. The addition started with Sandy Evans, the former school board chair, wanting to accommodate all the students. “If we don’t have the parking to correlate with the expansion, we can’t have the expansion,” says Ms. Anderson. The longer this process takes, the more set back the expansion will be. Her stance is that, “Whatever needs to happen, my goal is to be sure that we are addressing the community concerns at Justice HS. That’s paramount for me. I cannot be a representative of a school where the kids don’t even have space to walk through the hallways, and where teachers don’t even have classrooms. That’s my first priority. I am very grateful that FCPS has been aggressive as they have been with the county in terms of trying to get to the minimum number of spaces possible. So, my position, it’s not really focused on not so much of the parking lot, but of what I need to have happen at the school.” She wants this addition to happen for the betterment of the school. 

 Proposed plan for parking.

Sara Baldwin, the Acting Executive Director of the Park Authority, and Judy Peterson, the Public Information Officer who has been with the park authority for 20 years, say that as of this moment, the Park Authority does not have a role in this case because the school board has not proposed a plan that the park authority could consider. They explained that depending on the case, a master plan will be created or changed to bring about these proposed additions. A master plan is a plan that looks at the condition of the park, environmentally and culturally, and uses community input to decide the types of amenities that will be provided at the park. The master plan guides the development of the park and is referenced throughout the process. Both Sara Baldwin and Judy Peterson emphasized that community input and involvement in the master plan is a vital and important part of the process. They have community meetings, canvas the neighborhood around the park, and include the community’s comments on meetings in the planning process. 

 Master Plan Amendment for Justice Park, approved in 2009.

When asked how the proposed paving of Justice Park will affect the environment, Sara Baldwin said, “Through the development process that the schools will go through, there are certain code requirements that they need to follow to assess the environmental impacts to the water as a result of the paving of the park. They will assess the tree loss, and the impacts to the environment because of that, and then mitigate any impacts that the project has whether it’s through storm water retention facilities on the property or replanting of trees that are taken down as a result of the project.” Judy Peterson says, “Ideally we would never ever have to give up one inch of park land for anything besides parks. But that’s not the reality in a growing community that has growing needs such as the expansion.” They work to reach a balance that preserves park land as much as possible, but also benefits the community. 

 

Justice Park is home to many species and wildlife but is also the center of much activity in the surrounding neighborhood. A turtle was found at the park by one of the invasive species removal volunteers, evidence of the great habitat the park provides for endangered species. The outcome of the School Board and Park authority’s decision will not only affect the environment, but generations to come, and it’s important that all components and issues are addressed and shared with the community so that the best decisions can be made. Many Glasgow students will be attending Justice High School in the years to come and will live with the impacts of this decision. What is your stance, Glasgow students? What do you think is best for the community and school that you will be a part of in the future?