Jennie Dean was a former slave who founded the Manassas Industrial School for African American children in 1893.

The latest plans for a replacement of Jennie Dean Elementary School feature another pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade elementary school built with the same layout as Baldwin Intermediate and Elementary School, which opened in 2016.

The city’s School Board recently heard recommendations on how best to replace the aging Dean school, which opened in 1959. The board’s educational support committee is proposing using the same plans as Baldwin, which won a design award in 2018, and the same grade levels as the current Dean school.

But rather than waiting to start construction in July 2026, as is planned in the city’s capital improvement program, the committee is recommending the start be moved up to July 2025 or January 2026 at the latest.

“The committee has looked at several student grade models but feels that the current pre-K to 4 model best serves the character and uniqueness of Manassas and should remain the same,” School Board member and committee chair Jill Spall said in a presentation last week. “This recommendation negates the need for boundary changes and keeps pre-K with siblings during an important transition in their lives.”

Absent from the presentation was an updated cost estimate. Budgeted for $62 million in the capital improvement plan, City Council members have expressed concern that the ultimate cost could be much higher given inflation and the increased cost of construction materials. School Board Chair Suzanne Seaberg said the board hopes to have an updated figure by its March 14 meeting. Baldwin cost $38 million.

Spall and board Vice Chair Lisa Stevens said the plans would differ slightly from Baldwin’s due to “lessons learned,” but that ultimately using the same plans would create time and cost savings.

“We were happy overall with the configuration, with the building plans for Baldwin. And already having the building plans does create a cost-savings,” Stevens said. “So that is one of the things that we took into consideration, was that cost-savings by repeating the same building design. And other school divisions do that as well.”

Talks about replacing Dean – by the far the oldest school in the Manassas system – went on for years before the City Council and School Board finally agreed to a debt service plan in 2021. Final decisions about the grade configuration and design – which should come March 14 – could also help concerned City Council members reach a decision on the school system’s proposal to buy its current headquarters building at 8700 Centreville Road.

Administrative space, costs

Over the past several months, the School Board has been pushing hard for a $10.75 million allocation from the council to purchase the Centreville Road office building, collect rents and then ultimately convert some of the other space for other school division needs – possibly including career and technical education space, day care for students and teachers and more.

But the council has so far been reluctant to move on the request, suggesting that the School Board should stick to its original plan to take over and convert the old police headquarters on Fairview Avenue.

The School Board has said that the plan to purchase its current building would ultimately be more cost-effective in the short and long run, but the council has voiced concern over the lack of firm plans or an updated cost projection for Dean, which was supposed to be the division’s next big capital project.

Last month, the School Board sent a formal request for a decision on the plan, saying the current owner of the Centreville Road building had asked for clarity by the end of February. But after adding a resolution for consideration that would have approved the plan with heavy strings attached to its Feb. 27 agenda, the council once again punted any discussion of the matter to a future meeting.

Seaberg told InsideNoVa that without a final determination, the School Board will renew its lease with slightly more space for five more years and $3.9 million. So far, the owner has declined to publicly list the building for sale but has offered it to the school system.

“In my letter that I sent to council, [I said] we’ll have to pay up to $4 million for the next five years when we could buy the building for $10.75 [million],” Seaberg said.

In theory, the school division could still make the purchase if the council comes around to the idea and allocates the funding. But for now, Seaberg said, the school system has to secure a home for its administrative offices in the near term.

“It depends on what they say at their March 28 meeting … They want more assurances for Dean. So we’re just at the point now for Dean where we have signed an agreement with the architect to get some costs and timelines. So we expect that within a couple of weeks,” Seaberg told InsideNoVa. “Hopefully it’s enough for [the council] to say yes.”

Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at

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Jared Foretek covers Prince William County Public Schools, the city of Manassas and transportation news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at

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