Edward Risley


We've lived here for 21 years in the same house in the Hollin Hills subdivision. We were attracted here because we like the style of architecture. We liked the idea of having a small detached house to bring up our children and there was a pleasant highway into the city. When we came out here I don't think we thought about what was around Hollin Hills, but the longer we've lived here the more we’ve been exposed to problems that extend beyond our immediate neighborhood. I think we were focused sort of inward at the beginning. We wanted to build a Hollin Hills swimming pool and tennis courts. Fairly early on, we began to think about zoning, began voting for representatives who would try to plan ahead for good schools and a good environment generally.

Since I'm a geographer by background I'm interested in environmental things. Most of us who work for the government are more or less bureaucrats. You can't say that we work to achieve all sorts of ideals, but at least we learn how to be compromisers, and I think compromise is necessary, too.

As we saw this explosion of people into Fairfax County over the decades of the 50's and 60's, we saw the character of the place change. We saw the development of "the Route 1 corridor" which certainly isn't very aesthetic. Initially, the way we lived was shaped a great deal by the real estate developers.

Hollin Hills is an attempt at a planned community, where the architect worked with land planners, to layout the houses and streets in a way that would be, sort of, a best use. You can see up and down the river other communities that put more accent on a larger house for the same amount of money. It's this subdivision life that's different from town life.

You get a mixture of people, you have a mixture of problems. I don't have too much difficulty in discerning unique qualities of this part of Fairfax County as distinct from other sections which are also just conglomeration of subdivisions. We have Route 1, which is a very busy highway, and we have a more heterogeneous population. I would define the Groveton area today as pretty much the boundaries of the Groveton High School. There certainly is no focal point that I know of, where you could say, "Here's the town hall."

I got into the charrette through the P. T. A. We were going to spend the money (as taxpayers it was our money), to expand and build a larger, new High School.

During the 50's and 60's the building construction staff had a principal objective of sheer shelter for the students. The subdivisions were being built so rapidly and the real estate people were p1shing for schools. The schools bad a tendency to keep getting larger and larger -especially the high schools, which were running up to 3000. The problem seemed to me to be too much attempting to cope with large masses of teenagers, a sort of undesirable way of stereotyping students, expecting that they would all fit in packages and could be moved around in groups. It was not a desirable way to go in the future.

We started out with "A Report of the Community Advisory Committee for Planning the New Groveton High School," which was already the product of a group of interested citizens, representing architecture, education and various other fields, as well as the school representatives. They didn't call it a charrette, I don't know that charrette was ever the right word, but it was a jazzy word. A charrette means last minute, joint planning activity for a large building, with representation of all the people concerned with the design of the building, and the ultimate users of the building collaborating. It would normally be an activity extending over six weeks, a couple of months ours went on for about 4 or 5 years. But by any name, we were willing to go along. We felt there were unique qualities of this area that deserved to be taken into consideration in the design of this building, but might extend beyond the thought processes of the school administrator sitting 20 miles away out in the city of Fairfax.

We felt that it was a good thing to bring in people with different backgrounds, different interests, but all sharing a common concern -putting up a good high school, the best one we could do. People like the Quanders have a hundred years of history, here, and certainly have strong interests in what is done to land that was taken away from them. Others, like myself, feel quite attached to this area in many ways; a lot of emotional investment. We promoted the idea that this school should have community facilities. The design of the school should anticipate the different kinds of people using the school. Not solely as a school -though that was its primary function -but also after hours.

We did talk to various families immediately next to the school. I don't think we ever satisfied their concerns that a new high school would have great impact on their life, but I hope that the answer that's going up now is better than it would have been without this community participation. The charrette informed people about where we stood in the construction process, and we could get feedback on whether people agreed or not. In the end, the people would have to vote on the bond issue.

A school administrator would like to account for his students all of the time. He'd like to have one door, so that everyone goes in and out that door. Then he knows where everyone is all the time. But some people were interested in open teaching, open classrooms. They might 'prefer to see a number of doors. We had to thrash these issues around quite a bit, and I'm sure that most people felt that they were making compromises. But in the end we'd have a set of compromises which would suit the largest amount of people.

We tried to avoid the elitism of one small group of people saying ''We know best, and we're going to tell you how to do the building, " whether this was construction people out in the county, or whether it was a group of theoreticians in the neighborhood. It's hard, over such a long period of time, to keep people's interest alive. We have a chronology that extends from 1969 right up to 1974.

I'd say from what I see over here that this is going to be the best, physically the best, high school in Fairfax County. I feel that. That's just the bricks and mortar part of it, but it'll be successful if the students identify with the school, and. feel that they have something that's unique, and a good environment for them. Our thinking has been fairly much that exposure to different groups and people from different backgrounds is a good thing and that it would not be desirable to have all the vocations education people on one track off, in one corner of the schoolyard who didn't interact with other people.

I'm sure that it would have been a different building if we had not existed. Quite likely there would not have been a high school at all, because we maintained continuing political pressure on the county. So that they couldn't forget us -though I'm sure that sure were times that they would have liked to have us go away. We were persistent and sort of hung in there.

Part of what held the charrette together was occasional spells of frustration, indignation that the planners were moving ahead and weren't taking us into their confidence. There was some tension between the people who represented the user interests, the students, the parents and anyone else who would use this property, and the people in the county whose objective was to get something according to standards within the budget requirements. Sometimes we exchanged heated words but I think we never got into an open break with real acrimonious exchanges. One of the ways we avoided that was through this vehicle and we called it the charrette. We had several superintendents for construction, we had several superintendents and we had several principals. When people change you're apt to change policies and the policies may tend to overlook some of the history.

But at our meetings, we did have the support of the superintendent, so the construction people from the county would show up, the designated architect, Mr. Pickett, would show up and we could have a meaningful sort of exchange. We weren't just talking to ourselves. We were talking to the people who were going to be able to do -if anyone was going to do it.

Periodically when we realized that we had to show some muscle out in the county we'd have a gang of people go out to the school board meeting to impress them with our concern. We could get people whom you couldn’t get to come out every week or every month. They realized this was something they had a personal interest in because they had lived in this area a long time and had students here. It was a great, rewarding experience to find that we share a common goal and we could work together. When we needed to, we'd get up a substantial number of people and fill the cafeteria. This was always impressive both to the local supervisors and to the school administrators. I think we had a crisis every six months or so.

There were times during the charrette when I felt, you know, that it was sort of an imposition that I had to spend so many hours calling people on the telephone, going to meetings, but, it brought home to me the fact that we have a political system that exists and that it works if you make it work. And we had a happy ending. It could have been unhappy, I think. They could've told us to go jump in a lake. We were fortunate that Jim Ross was the superintendent's assistant both for Dr. Watt's and afterwards, and he had a good feeling for what had happened.

I looked up charrette reports in other cities, in other situations and I'd say that I found them rather disappointing, because they talked about something that had happened in a month's time and they seemed a little superficial. A charrette could be just a gimmick, the way the name sounds, if it isn't approached in the right way, I think there is an interaction that's necessary between the users, the designers, the builders and the operators. People say this is true of hospitals, or any other kind of institution, I don't know about prisons. Certainly for schools. If you're looking ahead - what's the county going to be like 20 years from now - then you have to be concerned that the school keeps up so that it can be adapted as time goes on. We looked at the design of Groveton as one attempt to answer some of the problems. Let's say we will provide a variety of educational opportunities for kids of different ages. We will have some hobby shop opportunities for older people. People who are interested in little theatre -we have a place for them. And how do we do this in a high school building? One way is to break the building down. Thats why we went to this campus plan, separate buildings for these activities, and the student body has access to all of these things -not be confined to one or another.

When we worked as a charrette we could write letters, or proposals that we all agreed to. Then we'd all sign them. I'm just expressing a personal opinion and my opinion is that the charrette did work, up to the point where the design of the school was approved and the contract was let. I believe that there should be a place for continuing more active community participation in the construction of the schools. I'm not sure that there's a good means for the immediate neighbors to go over and talk to the construction people about where they put the chain link fence. That's just an example, Should they call up the superintendent? They have to have a vehicle; if we had a charrette still active, we would solicit their views. We'd go over and ask them "What do you think?" Well its kind of late now, to do any of these things. I'm out of touch. But I'll have a son back in Groveton next fall and I think I'll raise this question at SPTA meetings.

Volume One, Table of Contents
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