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Peter’s Take: Think Way Outside the Box on School Design

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a Nov. 13 column, I urged Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County government to collaborate in thinking way outside the box in selecting sites for new school facilities.

Today, I urge them to be similarly creative and flexible in designing those new facilities.

Our neighbor, Fairfax County, has provided an example of such creativity and flexibility with the September opening of a new elementary school in vacant office space at Bailey’s crossroads. “As we continue to be a fast-growing school system and property becomes harder to come by, we will have to think differently” about school design, said Superintendent Karen Garza. “Vertical buildings will be part of our plan throughout the county.”

With roughly one-tenth the land area of Fairfax, Arlington must place even greater emphasis on vertical facilities. There are many obstacles to overcome, but we must come together as a community to overcome them.

Arlington need not re-invent the wheel on this issue. For example, several years ago, the state of Maryland prepared a study on vertical public school design. In a 14-page report, the Maryland study team summarized:

  • its methodology
  • the problems and issues it encountered, and
  • a series of possible solutions

The Maryland study team included public and private sector representatives from across the state. Many other localities in the U.S. (e.g., Los Angeles) and all over the world are planning vertical schools. Via AECOM:

Vertical schools are already being successfully designed and delivered…, including the Hampden Gurney primary school in London. … [T]his school [is] to be constructed over 6 levels on a space-restricted site. Incorporating a playground on the roof with play decks on intermediate floors, schools like this are set to inform the design process for similar schools in Australia.

So what’s driving the growth of these schools as opposed to more conventionally designed ones? … Population growth is seeing young families settle in high-density areas, attracted by associated lifestyle benefits that also make the “traditional” school design model harder to achieve.

Sound familiar?

Vertical schools are just one example of the kind of flexibility and creativity Arlington needs in order to address the design issues presented by the school capacity crisis. A whole host of other issues need to be on the table, for example: how existing space within current school facilities could be re-designed in order to be more effectively utilized.

Since incremental funds to address the school capacity crisis deserve the highest priority in our County budget, a portion of our community resources should be devoted to innovative school facility design.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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