Loudoun OKs Islamic School despite Outcry

Article excerpt

LEESBURG, Va. - The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will allow the Saudi Arabian government to build a 1-million-square-foot Islamic school in Ashburn, capping a cultural clash that divided residents and brought death threats to elected officials.

The board yesterday voted 7-2 to grant a special zoning exception that permits the Saudi Academy to build a compound on 100 acres of undeveloped land two miles north of Washington Dulles International Airport.

The academy will be across the street from a neighborhood whose residents said they feared, among other things, that the school would be a target for terrorists.

"Decisions like this are not easy to make," said board member David G. McWatters, a Republican, who voted to allow the school to be built. "I've never studied, discussed or been contacted so much on any one issue in my life."

The Saudi government will pay $50 million to build the school, which will resemble a small college campus and enroll up to 3,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

But opponents aren't giving up yet. Sandra Elam, spokeswoman for Concerned About Loudoun's Future, one of the groups formed to fight the academy, said to expect a lawsuit within 30 days charging the school violates zoning restrictions because it is fully funded by the Saudi government.

"We support everyone's right to practice their own religion, but we are intolerant of the Saudi government's right to come in here and build this and have us subsidize it with our tax dollars," she said.

Enrollment at the present Saudi school in Fairfax County had grown to 1,300, and school officials began looking for room to grow. The school serves a growing Washington-area Muslim population estimated at 200,000.

As a concession to the Loudoun board and to calm local fears, academy officials scrapped plans for a dormitory that would have accommodated boarding students. They also will install square windows in the building rather than the arched ones found in mosques. "No matter what concerns people have, education for children should not be obstructed," said academy representative Anthony Nozzoli after the vote. …