APS Considering Options for Building More School Capacity

by ARLnow.com December 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm 6,105 63 Comments

The Arlington County School Board is scrambling to decide on permanent solutions to the school system’s current capacity crisis.

Facing a burgeoning school population that has grown by 15 percent since 2006 and is projected to balloon another 20+ percent by 2017, school leaders are examining numerous options for new buildings, additions and renovations. Sixteen options for buildings or additions on Arlington Public Schools property were presented at a public meeting last week, and more options are on the way.

At a joint work session last Wednesday, County Board and school board members signed an agreement that will open up county-owned properties for possible school use. In the coming months, the school system is expected to add proposals for building on or renovating county-owned properties to the existing 16 conceptual plans for school properties — although only a handful of plans will necessarily be acted upon.

Among the school properties where feasibility studies have been conducted are: Abingdon, Arlington Traditional, Ashlawn, Carlin Springs, Drew, Glebe, Hoffman-Boston, Jamestown, McKinley, Nottingham, Oakridge, Taylor, Jefferson, Kenmore, Williamsburg, Reed. Proposals for those sites include adding on to existing school buildings, renovating buildings for classroom use, or adding entire separate, new schools onto the properties.

Among the county properties expected to be studied for possible school use are community centers like the Madison Community Center, among others.

Arlington Public Schools officials say they expect to add about 25 “relocatable” trailer classrooms per year “for the foreseeable future” in order to meet growing demand at schools across the county. The school system has just about run out of other options for packing more students in — by converting computer labs to classrooms and other creative “repurposing” techniques — without adding more bricks-and-mortar or further increasing class sizes.

“We’ve pretty much exhausted all our avenues of repurposing space,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “We’re going to be adding relocatables every year to alleviate some of that overcrowding, but those are just temporary solutions.”

Temporary solutions aren’t enough, administrators say, because the school system’s enrollment growth appears to be permanent. The recent growth in enrollment and the growth in the county’s birth rate point to a sustained rise in the student population that must be met with a permanent capacity increase, they say. By 2017, school enrollment is expected to surpass 26,000 students — nearly 3,500 seats over current capacity.

“This is not a bubble,” said Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy.”This is a realization… we need to go ahead and do it.”

Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman says that the trend of young couples starting families in Arlington but then moving further out into suburbs seems to have reversed — thanks to an increase in the desirability of living in Arlington and in the quality of the county’s schools.

“People actually see Arlington schools as significantly better than other alternatives, both public and private… we didn’t hear that 10 or 15 years ago,” Zimmerman said. “Then there’s the overall trend of people wanting to live closer-in… more transit-oriented, more urban communities, shorter commutes. That means there are people deciding they’re going to raise their kids here even if it means that their house isn’t going to be as big [or] their yard isn’t going to be as big.”

Criteria for choosing the sites where new school construction will take place include cost-effectiveness, parking and transportation considerations, and the use of green space. Already, residents near the Reed School site, in Westover Village, have organized and expressed opposition to the idea of using the site’s open space in order to build a new school building.

Tonight, the School Board will hold a work session to discuss the 16 possible expansion sites. More public meetings will likely be organized in January and February, according to school spokesman Bellavia. A final building proposal will be formulated this spring, and is expected to be incorporated into a new Capital Improvement Plan by the end of May.

See the Arlington Public Schools Capacity Planning Process website for more information.

  • Alicia

    I graduated from Washington Lee high in 10′. We were the first class to graduate from the new million dollar building. They built that building to accomidate the new amount of TRANSFER etc students coming to WL. The building is now over capacity. Honestly, Arlington County and it’s residents have a lot of money, and enough resources to do this BUT we shouldn’t have to. There are TOOOOOO many kids that live in Maryland that go to Yorktown WL etc for various reasons. That’s what they need to crack down on before building and expanding….

    • Alicia

      sorry……. “accommodate” is obviously the correct spelling haha

      • bob32

        Alicia, how are these kids from MD getting into W-L?

        • Alicia

          They’ll use someone else’s address to send the school mail to/ register with! Honestly. An Aunt, Cousin etc, pretty much anyone that would let them.

          • This is happening in all three schools. But because they don’t have attendance people that actually investigate by going to the home and knocking on the door it is allowed…. A/B form. Would like to see the numbers of those by school as I understand that now some schools do not take them while others do. Why would that be? And why do we allow it at all, year after year after year for the same students, some of whom cause problems?

        • charlie

          this was discussed earlier on a previous item about overcrowding.

          teachers/staff are allowed to bring their kids to APS even if they live elsewhere.

          W-L has 60-100 non-Arlington kids.

          • It really is not about the teachers/staff kids… that has already been addressed as any that come in have to go to certain schools that are under capacity… Wakefield. It really is about kids, in large numbers, who do not live in Arlington and claim that they do. Is that correct, Alicia?

          • Alicia

            That is correct. I don’t know if the students have gone to APS schools since elementary and continue to go while in high school because they have been, OR if they just come because the parents like the school, atmosphere etc OR if the parents work near Arlington so they they have the child commute with them every morning (which is a problem in itself!)

            Regardless, this is a difficult topic and is clearly even more difficult to solve. I just hope APS isn’t ignorant to this issue and does something about it.

          • Burger

            It actually isn’t difficult topic. If you do not live in Arlington, you should be going to public school in Arlington. Ignoring the teacher/student issue which can be addressed later.

            And it isn’t that hard to solve. If the student had a different address of the parent(s), then the onus is on the student to prove why they should be going to APS. I am trying to see the diffculty.

            There parents are not paying Arlington taxes.

            Maybe if it is enough kids, we can then build a trolley along columbia pike.

          • Burger

            darn it that should be “should not be going to public school in Arlington”

          • BethM

            My son regularly tells me about kids at Yorktown who commute from DC, Prince William County, and Loudon. It sounds like they are very open about it. These are NOT children of employees, just kids whose parents sign them up fraudulently. They use the address of a friend and then have all school correspondence sent to that address.

            I agree that we need to do more to verify that students live in the county — it is not right that Arlington taxpayers are paying for services that should be paid for in the home county. Arlington is known to be fairly easy to defraud in this regard.

    • Patti

      They should just change the boundaries. Most of the new density in Arlington is in the Washington-Lee boundaries. Maybe they could create another H-B Woodlawn program or Spanish immersion program in South Arlington, maybe within Wakefield. They also need to change the policy at the Arlington Career/Technical School. Those classes are capped at only 12-15 students when most could handle many more, especially when other schools have as many as 30 per class. It’s not so much about safety now that most of those classes are college courses rather than things that are dangerous. And speaking of college, the crowding at Washington-Lee can’t be simply because of IB programs. My daughter tells me that there are only a few dozen kids in the IB program.

      • Lee-n-Glebe

        Of course, that’s not as simple as it sounds. Right now, telling someone who paid up for a house to be in the W-L school district that they have been redistricted to Wakefield isn’t going to go over well, in most cases. Hopefully that changes when there is a new Wakefield.

      • Rebecky

        The Spanish Immersion program currently in place feeds to Wakefield (Elementary: Key & Claremont; Middle: Gunston; High: Wakefield).

      • dk

        All the boundaries need to shift south. And North Arlingtonians (of which I am one) will just have to deal.

        I also think HBW should be relocated to South Arlington, which would serve the dual purpose of freeing up some space in N. Arlington and increasing diversity (economic, racial, cultural) at HBW.

        • Rebecky


          A county-wide high school lottery would also balance out the inequality between Wakefield and the other two. But that will never happen.

        • BethM

          Yes. Programs like HBW and Arlington Traditional should be shifted to South Arlington, where there is more capacity and more students from racial/cultural minority backgrounds, freeing up space in the more overcrowded areas and making these popular programs more accessible to all.

          Plans for the new school at Wakefield should be modified to increase enrollment significantly, so the IB program can be housed there and borders redrawn to balance loads among schools.

          Yorktown isn’t done, so is there a way to increase capacity there? They have a smaller lot to work with, but if it is possible, that should be considered now, before it is too late to modify the new structures.

  • Grognak

    They are so far behind the curve on this. It will probably take 15-20 years to build their way out of it.

    • Burger

      And by that time, the student bulge will be gone.

      • OX4


  • SamsontheCat

    With the BRAC closures just move everyone out of that that big 5 sided building down by the Potomac and move the students in there.

  • North Pershing Drive

    So in the future my kids may not be able to W-L, even though I paid property taxes for years, and all because kids from outside of the county sneak their way in? That’s just great.

    • School Dad

      Well, your kids will be able to attend a newly renovated Wakefield, W&L or Yorktown, or H-B Woodlawn. So I’m not sure I understand your concern.

      • Rebecky


      • dk


        Your kids might not be able to go to W-L because the number of COUNTY residents with children has sky-rocketed. But I suppose it’s always easier to blame illegals, wherever they’re from.

    • Josh S

      Way to grab onto one particularly shiny factoid and inflate it into something it is not.

      This is how the 1% stay the 1% – taking advantage of the tendency of people to do this sort of thing….

      • Burger

        You know how silly that sounds and clueless to how income strata work.

        • Josh S

          It does perhaps inch a little close to tin-foil territory.
          As Thomas Jefferson once said – “A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.” I think there are those who are perfectly happy to have the masses incapable of or unwilling to engage in critical thinking.

    • drax

      Yes! It’s all because of some outsiders! It can’t possibly be our fault! Yes! We found a scapegoat! Woohoo!

  • novasteve

    Okay, obvious solution, why not turn the Artisphere into a school?

    • kramva

      I think this may be a sign that the mayans are right about 2012…I actually agree with novasteve.

  • The Dope of South Arlington

    So people condemn students from Maryland illegally attending school in Arlington, but have no problem with students from Central America doing so.

    • Josh S

      That sounds like fun. I’m going to pick a hobby issue and weave it into every thread on ArlNow from now on.

      This is gonna be great!!

      • Bluemontsince1961

        As long as it isn’t about smoking, automatic transmissions, loud noise or car exhaust! 🙂

        • Josh S

          I promise.

        • drax

          Are bums still fair game?

          • Josh S

            Nah, that’s the Kevinator’s. I don’t want to intrude….

    • Alicia

      alright, i’m just going to come out and say this and hope you don’t get offended or anyone else reading this for that matter.

      it’s NOT just the kids from Maryland, that was just ONE of MANY examples I have.

      I am willing to bet my life there are kids from Falls Church, Fairfax and anywhere else in Northern VA coming to APS schools illegally. Actually I don’t need to bet. I know that for fact. Hispanic, White, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern WHATEVER a lot of people are doing it and don’t see the wrong in it.

    • ArlingtonChick

      As much as I am not a fan of illegal immigration, they DO pay taxes (through fake social security numbers (yes, I realize that’s not a local tax) and buying things at the store locally), so that’s not the problem. People in Alexandria don’t pay taxes in Arlington, so that would be an issue. I really wish people would see that illegal immigrants have been propping up social services in this country, and that they are not the devil. In fact, illegal immigration was not a huge problem before Reagan closed the border to migrant workers.

      That being said, I also vote for the Artisphere to become a hippie-ish school. Let’s call it the ueber liberal version of TJ.

  • YTK

    Use the ARTISPHERE building!!!!!

  • yequalsy

    To say that there are some is a far cry from saying there are a lot. That non-resident’s make up a notable percentage of the APS student body remains unproven. What is proven is that many Arlington neighborhoods, especially in the north, have undergone a dramatic demographic transformation over the last ten years and that transformation has flooded the schools.

    I’m not apologizing for non-resident students, but finding them and getting rid of them isn’t as easy as some might think.

    • Grognak

      Papers please!

      • yequalsy

        Grandma says little Johnny lives with her. Now prove he doesn’t. Don’t forget to comply with privacy laws. Good luck with that. It’s not like plenty of school districts haven’t fought this fight (to decidedly mixed results).

        • little Johnny

          then Grandma should also be able to produce the court-issued paperwork that identifies her as my legal guardian. Otherwise, send me back to school where my parents live. It’s not that hard. They spend a whole lot more effort chasing the tax decal offenders, and THEY don’t cost the taxpayers $18,500 each like we pay for each and every kid in school.

  • Rick

    Maybe we need to send more kids to HB-Woodlawn — the students wouldn’t new buildings as they would be “telestudying” at home. Many Federal Agencies employees already telework, so why not students.

    Wall Street article on “The ABCs of Online Schools” .


  • Frank the Tank

    Question – instead of using the open space at the Reed School to build another school, why don’t they turn the Reed School . . . back into a school??

    • Lou

      They should hire you as a consultant. What’s that saying about consultants, someone you hire to tell you the time using your own watch?

      And they are thinking about converting Madison Center to a school? Hey, it was originally built as a school. Same with Lee Center at Lee and Lexington. I think we’ve just found them three new elementary schools in north Arlington for mere peanuts!

    • NoArl Parent

      Reed school would have to be remodeled. As I understand it (get ready) it was built without the required food service. I could be wrong, but that’s why they couldn’t use it as a “magnet lower elementary school for the NW area.

      • Lou

        Put the kitchen out in a trailer.

        • Arlington County Board

          That’s “Relocatable”, thank you very much.

        • charlie

          oh that makes too much sense — never would happen

  • PikerGirl

    I find Alicia’s comments intriguing. Other owners at my condo had complained to our condo board about all the people coming to park in our lot in the mornings while they waited for their elementary kid’s school bus. When the board investigated, they said Arlington County told them the bus should only be picking up kids that live in our condo. However, we have very few school kids living in our building. Some owners said it was apparent that these vehicles were not from our neighborhood or even from Arlington County. I wondered why people were doing that, but maybe now I know. I would have a problem with my Arlingotn County property taxes going to pay for educational costs for non-Arlington county residents.

    • Buggg

      Talk to a School Board member and see if they want to pursue this issue. Because it is an issue. And it is worse in South Arlington than North Arlington in terms of out of county. Worse in North Arlington than South Arlington in terms of in county.

  • Loaded_For_Bear

    Artisphere and Columbia Pike Trolley funds might be/have been useful in addressing this issue…

    • Bluemontsince1961


  • Close the Libraries

    How about let’s repurpose every library into a school. Books are going away anyway. The libraries now are filled with nothing but homeless dudes and kids–so let the kids stay by turning the libraries into schools (with their own libraries). Maybe you could keep the school libraries open on the weekends for the public.

  • PL25rd

    Interesting – when we bought a house and moved into Nottingham Elementary’s district, I had to show the registrar at Nottingham the deed to the new house that we bought with my name on it to prove that my daughter had residency in the district. Maybe different schools have different verification processes, but I don’t think that Nottingham has a big problem with students from other areas attending that school…

    • BethM

      But you don’t have to own, you just have to live there. If you claim to live with Grandpa (which we actually did for a while), grandpa has to verify that this is true and show his deed to the house. When you rent, you just bring in a copy of a signed lease. That’s where the fraud can easily happen. You just fill out a lease and get someone to sign it. When I did it, there was no verification that the person who signed it was actually the owner.

      When my kids were in elementary, another mom told me that she was thinking of moving to a cheaper apartment in Alexandria and asked if I’d be willing to sign a lease stating that she was renting from us. I reacted very negatively and she never brought it up again, and also ended up not moving anyway. Still, the fact that she thought it to be a fairly mundane request shows the attitude of some of these folks.

    • Buggg

      Issue is that I can show my mom’s lease and then show that I am living with my mom therefore my child can go to the school. The allowability of this practice varies from school to school though.

      Ask for the number of such students by school and it would be very telling I bet!

  • Loocy

    Maybe Arlington should see if Marymount would sell some of their land. They could then turn that into a campus including a middle, high, and elementary school. It’s right where the big burst of population has occurred so would be conveniently located. GIve them a fair chunk of change for it and they could use it to buy a big property with fields out in Loudon or Prince William county.

  • Loocy

    Scratch that! Much better idea! I understand that the Navy Annex property is going to be turned into a county park. Forget the park, build some new school buildings there! Another idea is to move all the school system administrative offices from their location next to W-L to the Navy Annex, then use the admin buildings for classrooms.

    • Buggg

      Like this idea. Except I think there is going to be a museum in the Navy Annex space that will sit above the extended Arlington Cemetery.

  • El Papa Juan Pablo

    Very simple solution. Turn Madison Community Center in upper North Arlington into an elementary school. Offer a standard curriculum but call it The Arlington School for the Super Genius Child. Every Arlington parent will be demanding that their kid attend. Siphon from schools at random proportional to overcrowding and problem is solved.


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