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Working Group Still Eyeing Thomas Jefferson Site for New School

by Heather Mongilio October 16, 2015 at 10:30 am 0

A working group tasked with analyzing sites for a new South Arlington elementary school is continuing to set its sights on the land surrounding Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Working group chairman Greg Greeley presented the latest analysis to the County Board and Arlington School Board during a joint working session yesterday (Thursday). Arlington Public Schools is aiming to open a new school by 2019 in order to handle a 925 seat deficit.

The working group analyzed about 20 different locations, included those owned solely by Arlington Public Schools, solely by the county, jointly by APS and the County and privately owned. From there, the group narrowed it down to three finalists: Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Gunston Middle School/Oakridge Elementary School and Drew Model Elementary School.

With each site, the working group looked out how the new elementary school would fit on the property. Of the three sites, the working group preferred the Thomas Jefferson site.

In January, the County Board scuttled the school system’s plan to build an elementary school on the TJ site, following vocal protests from residents concerns about the impact to adjacent parkland.

County Board member John Vihstadt echoed those concerns, and brought up a proposal that he said could preserve the parkland while still getting the school built nearby.

Vihstadt introduced a letter from Snell Properties, which owns the Dominion Arms complex at 333 S. Glebe Road, offering APS land for a school free of charge, in exchange for the ability to build a new development with more density.

The Sun Gazette has more about the proposal and the mixed reaction to it.

“Without getting into the pros and cons, the merits and demerits of this potential new location, I, for one, am certainly interested in the pursuit of looking at this, completely scouring the pros and cons of whether this is an option or not. We are making a decision for 50 years,” Vihstadt said.

At the time of the working session between the two boards, not all members had read the letter, including School Board Chair Emma Violand-Sánchez and Superintendent Patrick Murphy, who voiced concerns about the potential for delaying the opening of a new school past 2019.

“Some of the concerns I think is we have a process in place and we have to respect the process. The South Arlington working group has done a fabulous job, and I would hate to see something new come into play and derail and delay given the 2019 timeline,” Murphy said.

Vihstadt asked the working group and School Board about possible alternatives to find at least 725 new seats, a request made previously by the County Board in January.

The School Board looked at additions to Barcroft and other elementary schools but they would not add enough seats, said Violand-Sánchez. School Board member Abby Raphael also raised concerns over the costs of additions versus a new school.

“Clearly additions are not as cost effective as  a new school. Given the limited funding that we have for capital. I would be very surprised if we had to go back to what we called plan B,” Raphael said. “And I kind of find it inconceivable that we’re not going to reach agreement on a new site for a school in south Arlington. We have to. We have to the seats in the fall of 2019.”

A full report from the working group on potential South Arlington school sites is due to the County Board in November.

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