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Donnellan Recommends Denying Wilson School’s Historic Designation

Wilson School (photo courtesy Preservation Arlington)The Wilson School in Rosslyn is looking less and less likely to receive a historic district designation that would help it be preserved.

The final decision will be made by the Arlington County Board at its meeting this Saturday, and if the Board follows County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation, it will reject the school’s historic district status.

The Wilson School was built in 1910, but has since been renovated. Preservations are hoping the County Board will designate it as a local historic district, which would require pieces of the building be preserved before it is bulldozed to make way for a new, 775-seat building to house the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

The Arlington School Board and Planning Commission have each recommended against the historic designation, citing cost and time concerns. The new school building is budgeted for $80.2 million and scheduled to open by September 2019.

The building, constructed in 1910 as the Fort Myer Heights school, is the oldest school structure in the county still owned by Arlington Public Schools, and the second-oldest school building overall, behind the Hume School (which now serves as the Arlington Historical Society museum).

The Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board unanimously recommended the school be granted historic district status. According to county staff, it meets six of the 11 criteria needed for historic status, when it only needs to meet two to be eligible. However, staff wrote in its report to the Board, that doesn’t mean it should be granted said status.

“Consideration of a property for local historic district designation is not based solely on the historical and/or architectural merits of the historic resource,” the report states. “There are multiple competing County interests and priorities that must be accomplished within the limited constraints of the existing site, including a larger school, athletic fields, and open space. Coupled with these site demands, the preservation of the historic Wilson School is not considered a viable alternative.”

Despite the staff’s findings — and the county’s growing need for school space — Preservation Arlington is hoping to sway the County Board to change course and grant the historic status.

“Preservation Arlington is disappointed in the staff recommendation to deny the designation,” the organization wrote on its website. “Wilson School is the oldest continuously operating school building still owned by the County. The history of the school is directly connected to our early years as a growing community and a time when we were visited by the President of the United States, which still happens today.”

If the County Board does deny the historic status, staff and the HALRB recommend exploring “the most appropriate ways to memorialize and commemorate the historical and community value of the Wilson School in the construction of a new school facility on the existing site.”

Preservation Arlington is encouraging those in favor of preserving the school to rally at the County Board meeting on Saturday, at 8:30 a.m., in the County Board room on the third floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.

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