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Paul VI Catholic High School to relocate to South Riding

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Paul VI Catholic High School will relocate from its current 18-acre campus in Fairfax City to a 68-acre property 12 miles west in South Riding, according to an announcement this week by the Arlington Diocese.The projected opening of Paul VI's new Loudoun County campus in 2020 will ensure the high school has a facility that fits its needs and strengthens the school's legacy of excellence.

The estimated $60 million school will be built on property currently owned by the diocese, with state-of-the-art facilities able to accommodate diverse academic needs and robust extracurricular and athletic programs.

The move will not affect any current Paul VI students or the incoming Class of 2019.

The relocation of Paul VI High School to a world-class facility ensures that future generations of students in our diocese will receive Catholic education at the highest level of excellence," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

"I am so proud of the achievements of the students, faculty and staff of the Paul VI community," said Sister Bernadette McManigal, diocesan superintendent of schools. "It is with great excitement that I look forward to PVI's future in a new complex which will enhance the students' educational opportunities."

The decision to relocate the high school follows an extensive assessment of diocesan Catholic education and the long-term needs of Paul VI, including curriculum development, co-curricular programming and the sustainability of the current campus.

The 80-year-old facility, previously occupied by Fairfax High School and George Mason University, is being used to its maximum potential: There is a forced cap on student enrollment due to space restrictions. Site expansion is not possible, and rising costs of building maintenance are unsustainable, according to diocesan officials.

The diocese is in the final stages of negotiations with a developer who will formulate plans for the 18-acre property in cooperation with Fairfax City planning officials.

Paul VI was established in 1983 by former Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh to provide Catholic education to students in the western region of a rapidly growing diocese.

The school's first principal was Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Donald J. Heet, and enrollment was 350 students. The Oblates ended their 17-year association with the school in 2000, although their Salesian spirituality can still be felt. Three years later, the school opened a two-floor, $6.5 million student activity center.

Since 1983, the diocese has opened nine parishes and seven schools to serve more than 92,000 Catholics living in western Fairfax County and in Loudoun County, the fastest-growing county in Virginia.

The diocese will provide bus transportation for students traveling to and from the new site. Proposed pick-up and drop-off locations include stops within the City of Fairfax.

In addition to providing transportation, the diocese will continue to offer financial assistance to families in need.

In 2014-15, the diocese educated more than 12,900 students in 37 elementary schools. Four diocesan high schools - Paul VI, Bishop Ireton, Bishop O'Connell and Saint John Paul the Great - serve 3,570 students throughout the northern tier of Virginia.

At Paul VI's 2015 commencement ceremony May 31 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, 225 seniors received their diplomas.

Virginia Colwell, Paul VI principal for nine years, was to tell the faculty, staff and students about the impending move June 3.

Colwell said that the school community has been waiting for a decision since 2013, so many of them will be excited that it's finally been made.

She's not sure how the move will impact future enrollment, but the new facilities will allow the school to add new programs and expand existing ones, such as the Options program. Extra athletic fields mean teams won't have to travel off campus for practice, as they currently have to do in Fairfax."

Both personally and professionally, I'm thrilled about the move," Colwell said. "Why wouldn't I want to expand the Options program and the science labs? It's the best thing for us, to be able to reach as many Catholic students as we can.

"The chapel will be the heart of the new school," she said. "The chapel comes first."

Colwell said she's visited other Catholic high schools in New Orleans, Harrisburg and Olney, Md., that underwent similar moves to learn what worked and what they would do differently.

She hopes to engage alumni and parents in the design of the new school, especially the new science labs.

"Paul VI is not the building," Colwell said. "It's who we are, not where we are. Paul VI's home is where we are as a family."

Find out more More information about the relocation of Paul VI High School can be found here.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015