APS to Discuss School Capacity Challenges

by ARLnow.com September 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm 3,109 35 Comments

Arlington Public Schools will be hosting a public meeting next week about the school system’s looming capacity crisis.

The forum will be held next Wednesday night at the Washington-Lee High School auditorium, not far from where several new trailer classrooms were installed over the summer. School officials will discuss the steps they’re taking to address the burgeoning student population, which is expected to reach 3,400 seats overcapacity by 2016.

Among the possible solutions to be discussed are “building opportunities” on existing Arlington Public School sites. The APS press release is below.

Arlington parents and the community are invited to a presentation about facility planning and steps taken to address the space needs due to increasing enrollment. The meeting will be held on Wed, Oct. 5 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Washington-Lee High School auditorium (1301 N. Stafford St.)

At the meeting, the community will hear about the current process to address the increases in enrollment and which APS sites may be reviewed for potential building opportunities. APS officials will outline the next steps and talk about opportunities for further dialogue between school communities, staff and the School Board.

The event is open to the community. Simultaneous translation services will be provided.


APS is facing increased enrollment for the foreseeable future. By 2013, there will be over 800 more students than available seats. By 2016, APS faces an even greater shortage of 3,400 seats. As the division continues to exceed capacity limits, APS has been using a variety of solutions to create additional teaching space including adding relocatable classrooms at a number of schools until more permanent solutions can be implemented.

Over the course of the summer, the School Board worked with staff and Decision Lens to build a criteria-based model for evaluating potential capacity-building options. Planning for the 2012 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and future CIPs provides an opportunity for APS to look at where to build additional, permanent capacity for students.

  • Lee-n-Glebe

    The euphemism currently in vogue for the trailers is “relocatables.”

    I wish I was making that up.

  • Rebecky

    At our ES, they are “learning cottages.” (Try saying that one with a straight face.)

    Cutesy words aside, they really are not bad at all. They are spacious and nicely appointed – when you’re in the room you truly cannot tell that it isn’t a traditional classroom. And IMHO they beat the heck out of over-crowded classrooms.

    • yequalsy

      Yeah, my son has been in a trailer the last two years and strongly prefers them to the main building. This is not to deny that Arlington has a serious problem on its hands with overcrowding that will take more than just trailers to overcome.

    • drax

      Yep, they are miles ahead of the ones we had when I was a kid. Those were real trailers. You were lucky if you had heat. The new ones APS has put in recently have hallways, bathrooms and water fountains, and full computer technology. Some are probably more modern than the schools they sit next to.

  • Whitney Wilson

    At Key School, we call our (new) one “La Isla Bonita” (“The Beautiful Island”). The biggest complaint I have about it is that it takes up a not insignificant chunk of the playground.

  • Steve

    What is there to discuss? They have found the solution, which is more trailers. How many kids does one trailer hold? Now divide 3,400 by that and buy that many trailers. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids in a trailer farm. By 2016 is not enough time from now to plan and build a new school, so it is fairly obvious that trailers are the solution.

    • Burger

      You are exactly right but Arlington, if for nothing, is all about people providing input that will be ignored. Or let people speak their mind with crazy plans when the obvious stares them in the face.

    • Josh S

      Actually, there are other things to discuss –
      you can eliminate things like computer labs and art rooms and turn them into classrooms
      you can increase class size
      you can change the attendance boundaries for those schools that are particularly overcrowded and send more kids to those schools that aren’t facing such a crunch.
      It’s not as simple as dividing 3400 by the capacity of a trailer.
      Which is why there is a process.

      • JR

        Trailers also are not free. They are not cheap to rent or buy. They require maintenance and they wear out. In the long-run, additions to existing schools, if not new schools themselves may be more cost effective than “permanent” trailers.
        In any event, trailers by themselves are not a total solution. Adding more and more trailers does not address related capacity issues, such as overcrowding in lunchrooms, gym, other common spaces. And some of the more crowded schools are already maxed out in terms of available space to add trailers unless they encroach further on play space or county land.
        And yes, the issues above are also in the mix for public discussion.

        • Lou

          The utility costs for the trailers are also probably much higher per sf than central building systems. Mostly in the inefficient heating and cooling units.

          And you are right about taking up space. They are an eyesore and are being installed with no site plan review amendments or outreach to the neighborhoods.

  • Mark

    I much prefer the idea of more “relocatables” than cannibalizing art and lab space in the main buildings. Given that they’ve just redone 2 of 3 high schools, the practical issue is that most kids in the system now or in the near future (mine included) are going to spend time in a trailer.

    But they do need to analyze whether enrollment will boom and bust, as it did during the baby boom or whether Arlington will continue to be a place for families. If so, it may be time to reclaim some of the community centers and do some construction (Madison and Lee come to mind in the too-crowded Taylor/Nottingham/Tuckahoe area).

  • JimPB

    What’s the projected enrollment for 2011, especially for grade schools?

    • JR

      Estimated 2011 enrollment is 22,245. There are now 83 relocatables (up 28 this year). The annual growth rate is estimated at 4% through 2016. That means a shortage, system-wide of 834 seats by 2013 and 3,387 seats by 2016.

      That breaks down as follows:
      Elementary school shortages
      2013: 1,084 seats (46 classrooms)
      2016: 1608 seats (69 classrooms)

      Middle school shortages
      2016: 921 seats (38 classrooms)

      High school shortages
      2013: 105 seats (4 classrooms)
      2016: 857 seats (36 classrooms)

      So by 2016, assuming we maintain roughly current class sizes, we are looking at the potential need for 143 new classrooms.

      This clearly can be solved by relocatables alone. Nor should anyone harbor the illusion that our enrollment issues are a mere temporary blip. Yes, there are cyclical trends, but development and redevelopment trends in Arlington, combined with larger houses, and an increase in families wanting to live closer to DC and transit suggest that even if growth rates decline we are looking at a new normal in terms of capacity needs.

  • MC

    We are having a blip in enrollment nationally, but it is temporary, and not reason to build spaces that will be unused in a few years. Some precious little trophy children will need to adjust to the greater demands of society and begin to learn it is not all about them, despite the earnest reinforcements of their parents. Learn to share – that’s the opportunity.

    • Josh S

      “precious little trophy children?”

      Geez, I resent the rich entitled folks in Arlington as much as the next guy, but “trophy children” goes a bit too far. I suspect the average elementary kid in Arlington is twice as generous and tolerant as you are revealing yourself to be by that comment.

      • PL25rd

        +1000. Thank you, Josh.

      • drax

        “precious little trophy children” = any kid who has it better than mine

        • Pamela

          It definitely sounds like something the lower wage earning Arlingtonians would label the more affluent kids. I really hope families who take up residence in Arlington’s affordable house stock would not have such a mean outlook on the richer families of the county. It does not help our situation.

    • JR

      It’s not a blip. See above. And don’t kid yourself that this issue is limited to only a few areas of the county. Crowding is a reality or soon will be in every part of Arlington.

  • JimPB

    School enrollment numbers seem to be peaks and valleys — peaking with a surge in young families, then valleying when the children grow up and move on while the parents stay in place until eventually there is a turnover to a new set of young families.

    Money is finite. And school facilities are not the educational process but are platforms for that process. So think smart and act smart to maximize the use of resources for the educational process, and to use it effectively there. Accordingly, build permanent facilities for the “valleying” number of students plus a bit more (with “common” school areas such as lunchroom, gym, auditorium of adequate size at each school to accommodate peak enrollment) and secure/arrange for space adjacent to or near the permanent school facility for the number of “portable classrooms” needed to accommodate peak enrollment plus a safety margin.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    Why don’t they think outside the box?
    Lease several floors in a high-rise building in the Ballston Corridor or Crystal City. Place it near a medium-sized park so the kids can play. For lunch take them to the nearest food court. Enrollment is open to families of office drones who work nearby.

    • JimPB

      Along the lines you suggest:
      A Quaker school on a block in downtown Philadelphia sold its air rights. A builder then tore down the aging school facilities and constructed a multi-floor office building with the school, with $5 million in hand, was housed one floor, with the roof for outdoor activities.

      • Othersideoftheriver

        Sounds like an idea a church in Clarendon might pursue. Oh, wait…

      • JR

        This is the sort of idea we should explore. Which school was that? I’m familiar with the Quaker schools in Philly.

        • liz

          I think it is Friends Select…I could be wrong…

    • This is a good idea, considering the proliferation of high-rise living (density) has been a large contributor to increasing class size. That begs the question….. with all this added tax base, where is the school funding for expansion?

      • JimPB

        Here in North Arlington, the surge in enrollment and projected enrollment comes from turnover — older residents, their children long raised and out of the nest (and school system) being replaced by young families with young children. Most of the new young families have sufficient income so that they are buying McMansions (replacements for the original ramblers), with a substantial increase in the assessment and in turn in the property tax yield.

  • teacher in APS

    As long as the solution doesn’t involve increasing class size. Right now, all the Board has done is water down the value of an Arlington education. We have way to many kids/class at the high school level. (up anywhere from 3-6 kids per class from last year)

    • Parent in APS

      It is infuriating when APS tries to increase class size by saying the classes won’t be any bigger than they are in Fairfax. So what? We don’t want to be in Fairfax.

    • 4Arl

      If class size and per pupil spending stay the same, where is the revenue for the operating budget to accommodate 3,400 students? At nearly $20K a head, that could be over $60 million more a year. What’s the revenue sharing agreement going to look like if enrollment meets forecasts?

      • JimPB

        The average per student cost does not apply to the additional students. Why? Because the “overhead” costs should not increase much, e.g., Superintendent and staff, planning office, personnel office, principals (number), etc. Indeed, a number of the additional students will involve only a minute increase in cost because they will fit into ongoing classrooms and be served by current staff. But some will require additional teachers and space. But no way should their individual cost be the system’s average per student cost.

  • John F

    The trailers seem to have much better functioning hvac units than the regular classrooms. I think pre-Fab classrooms might not be a bad solution.

  • yequalsy

    Trailers are part of the solution but there’s no way trailers alone solves the problem. As with most difficult problems this one will take a mixed approach: more trailers, shifting some boundaries, perhaps figuring out how to move around some of the county-wide programs at Reed, ATS, and Arlington Science (that’ll create an epic food fight), etc. Then we use O’Connell to solve the middle school problem (joking!). What’s annoying is that we’ve known about this problem for quite a while — well before the Reed reconstruction — and the school leaders, most notably the past superintendent, opted to just kick the can down the road.

    • steve

      Ironic that the adults can play kick the can, dodgeball and tag (your fault), but the kids can’t…

    • liz

      Yes it has been a issue for a long time and the problem is no one wants change and if people suggest relocating of programs parents get all mad because they do not want their kids to go to South Arlington where some of the space is or some schools do not want that program part of there school. I think if Arlington was smart they would just make the changes with no input just like other school districts do in other parts of VA and the parents deal with it or they send there kids to a private school . The school board needs to stand up to the parents and say this is what we are going and if you do not like it , tough. That is the only way the issue is going to be solved and that is the Arlington County Board stance and how they deal with things!!!!


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