Prince William officials ceremoniously broke ground Thursday on the county’s 17th middle school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021 at Potomac Shores.
The $52.4 million new middle school is under construction on a 52.5-acre parcel across from John Paul the Great High School.
Potomac Shores, a six-year-old residential development off U.S. 1 in Woodbridge, is also home to the Covington-Harper Elementary School, which opened in 2017.
Superintendent Steven Walts noted the new middle school, which has not yet been named, is being built according to a new building design devised by architects and school division officials. Prince William County last opened a new middle school in 2012, when Ronald Reagan Middle opened in Haymarket.
The middle school at Potomac Shores will have a separate, 800-seat auditorium. That’s significant since most of the county’s middle schools have combination “café-toriums,” except for Fred Lynn Middle and a few other older middle schools that were originally used as high schools, such as Stonewall Middle.
The school will also have separate floors for each grade level — sixth, seventh and eighth, Walts said.
The new school will have a STEAM lab – for the acronym science, technology, engineering, art and math – and will have a “maker space” on each floor. All floors will also feature open, collaborative spaces for teachers and students.
“It’s going to be an eye-opener, and it’s very, very exciting,” Walts said.
The new middle school — with a capacity of 1,491 students — will also be larger than most of the county’s other middle schools, which were built to accommodate about 1,200 students.
SunCal, the developer of Potomac Shores, donated the site for the school to the county as a proffer when the Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved rezonings for its development in 2013.
The neighborhood has been approved for a total of 4,000 homes and apartments or condominiums as well as a town center, a Virginia Railway Express station and a hotel. Site work for the town center and VRE station is under way now.
Potomac Shores is also home to an 18-hole golf course. A community center with a swimming pool were also added in recent years.
“Having this new middle school here will add to the prestige of this wonderful, wonderful community,” said Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, who spoke during the ceremony.
“This is what happens when developers proffer land, and we don’t have proffers anymore,” she added.
Caddigan was referring to a 2016 Virginia law that prohibits local boards of supervisors from requiring proffers such as school sites from developers as a condition of having their projects approved.
Virginia lawmakers tweaked that law this year to allow developers to offer such amenities if they choose. In general, developers are required to offset only the costs to public services and facilities directly impacted by new residents of their new neighborhoods, a change that has significantly reduced what developers offer localities in connection with rezoning for new homes.
School Board member Justin Wilk, who represents the Potomac District, noted the school would bring “much needed” overcrowding relief to area middle schools such as Graham Park Middle, which is about 150 students overcapacity this year. Graham Park Middle is using eight classroom trailers this year, according to school division records.
Other schools’ attendance areas that could be affected by the new middle school include Rippon, Potomac and Fred Lynn middle schools.
The new school will open when students currently in third and fourth grade will enter the sixth and seventh grades, respectively.