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Peter’s Take: Reject Stratford Historic Designation Now

by Peter Rousselot — September 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,050 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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.

It’s time for the County Board to vote to reject historic designation for Stratford. The mere possibility that Stratford might receive such a designation is substantially hurting APS’ ability to design a new middle school to add desperately needed seats.

The current process–which relies on the false hope that a reasonable compromise can be reached between the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) and APS staff–already has proven that no such reasonable compromise will occur. Why prolong the agony?

(1) APS staff’s top priority is to design a school that makes sense – for programming, student circulation and overall school community. HALRB’s top priority, per its guidelines, is that there be minimal changes to the original building. These are two irreconcilable priorities.

(2) APS staff has announced publicly that its preference is the “link” design, which builds an atrium over the historic south building façade. During two work sessions (the Aug. 11 School Board work session and the Aug. 19 APS-HALRB work session), HALRB strongly criticized the “link” design. APS has proposed a wide variety of ways to honor Stratford’s desegregation history, but would definitely change the outward appearance of the building.  HALRB’s mission is to protect the history of the building by maintaining its appearance.  These are two irreconcilable historic preservation strategies.

(3) The idea of a compromise is clearly unrealistic. APS staff continues to present options partially to appease HALRB, but APS continues to promote the design APS believes works best for students. HALRB continues to throw up roadblocks, coming up with additional problems for each APS design. For instance, HALRB provided significant pushback to one of the APS “compromise” designs because the soccer field’s position relative to the school was changed by a matter of several yards. HALRB’s alternative solution basically eliminated a new parent drop-off plaza–an important safety enhancement. HALRB’s unwillingness to make even minimal changes to the outside view of the school is unreasonable. While some of APS’ own designs might prove to be too elaborate or expensive, that is a separate issue that can and should be addressed separately.

Conclusion

The County Board should vote now to reject historic designation for Stratford because it is clear that there will not be a reasonable compromise between two such diametrically opposed organizational missions as those of APS and HALRB.

The new Stratford Middle School should:

  • Incorporate design elements that sensitively and appropriately celebrate the historic desegregation events that took place at Stratford, BUT
  • Only celebrate them in a way which does NOT significantly add to the cost of the building nor otherwise restrict its use as a new middle school, as determined by APS not by HALRB.

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