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Peter’s Take: Wastin’ Away in Murphyville

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 RousselotWill some Arlington students get their entire Arlington Public Schools education in trailer-based classrooms?

It’s a startling prospect for our “world class” community. But, that possibility became clearer in the latest plan proposed by APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy:

Murphy’s plan… calls for 27 new relocatables for elementary schools in South Arlington by fall 2020. By fall 2019, Murphy plans for middle schools around the county to add 44 new trailers. In five years, that would bring the total number of trailers for middle schools and South Arlington elementary schools to 120.

It’s been evident for some time that without financially feasible new plans to build new school facilities on specific sites, APS will ramp up its reliance on “relocatable classrooms” (aka trailers) in perpetuity. The numerous students for whom there are no classrooms already occupy 124 trailers.

It’s highly unlikely that the completion of the Community Facilities Study magically will eliminate the need for many dozens of trailers. Arlington probably won’t be able to retain its AAA/AAA bond rating over the next 10 years if it tries to finance the construction of all the new school facilities needed to provide enough seats — and ditch the trailers.

That still will be true even if APS does the right thing by substantially revising its Architectural Digest philosophy of new school design and construction. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if repurposing county-owned properties for schools will relieve enough congestion at an affordable price.

The County Board stubbornly has refused to take the steps needed to require developers like Vornado to pay their fair share of the cost of the new school facilities needed because of new development. And our highly educated community is unlikely to put up with a massive increase in class size as a means of trailer elimination.

Stop pretending trailers are temporary

APS needs to stop pretending that these “learning cottages” are temporary. Instead, APS must candidly admit that trailers are permanent.

Studies have shown that trailers can raise serious environmental and health concerns. These concerns are serious enough when trailers are temporary, but are greater when they are permanent. Health and environmental risks are magnified when trailers are used on the same site at which new school facilities or renovations are being constructed.

Launch a search for new models

APS should switch to new, more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient trailers. One possible model is the one used by the Waldorf School in Charlottesville. Many other examples are available here.

CONCLUSION

APS should:

  • admit that its relocatable classrooms are a permanent feature, and
  • appoint a joint citizen-APS task force to identify new models to fill APS’ growing capacity gaps.

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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