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Elite 'TJ' plans for $90 million expansion

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Fairfax County's prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology plans to break ground in the coming months on a $90 million renovation that will increase the size of its building by 50 percent.

The renovation will add a two-story research wing at the front of the school, which will house "state-of-the-art laboratories for neuroscience, a massive wave tank for oceanography students and an optics lab equipped with lasers," said Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre. The technology is being funded through grants and private donations.

Apart from these new instruments, the renovations are necessary to alleviate overcrowding, said Thomas Jefferson Principal Evan Glazer. Built in 1964, the school was last renovated in 1989. In recent years, "TJ," as it is known, has had to add 25 trailers, "which we affectionately call Learning Cottage City."

Current enrollment at Thomas Jefferson
Fairfax County residents: 1,519
Loudoun County residents: 203
Arlington County residents: 60
Prince William County residents: 58
Falls Church City residents: 4
Total: 1,844

In addition to the research wing, the construction will add outdoor classrooms and a greenhouse, and new common spaces will replace hallways between classrooms, Glazer said. These spaces will offer access to computers -- replacing traditional computer labs -- and will be used for interdisciplinary research projects, for lunchtime study or to practice "cultural dances."

"We're trying to make every single square foot a learning space in the building," Glazer said.

The Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to vote on a contract with a construction company at Thursday's meeting. Staff have recommended approving the lowest bid, a $67.4 million offer by Henley Construction Co. Inc. After factoring in other expenses, the total project cost is expected to be roughly $90 million, Torre said.

The school system has proposed that the cost be split among the jurisdictions that send students to the regional Governor's School, an academically advanced public school that accepts students through an application process. Based on an average enrollment over five years, Loudoun County Public Schools would pay $7.8 million, Arlington Public Schools $3.5 million, Prince William Public Schools $2.5 million and Falls Church City Public Schools $350,000.

Representatives of Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun County public schools said their respective school leaders have not discussed the plans or how to pay for them.

Though Torre emphasized that these kinds of cost-sharing proposals are common among other Virginia Governor's School programs, the proposal has raised questions of whether the different systems will continue allowing students to enroll at Thomas Jefferson.

That worries Glazer.

"It is in my interest that we remain as a regional Governor's School serving not only the five school divisions that currently participate, but there are also some school divisions in Northern Virginia that don't participate, and we hope that they would consider participating in the future," he said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner