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Peter’s Take: Stratford — Honor History, But No ‘Historic Designation’

by Peter Rousselot December 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm 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. 

As the Washington Post reported on Nov. 25, the Arlington School Board is “moving toward a compromise” under which the historic desegregation events at the Stratford school site on Vacation Lane would be honored. However, under the compromise, the school building itself would not receive a formal “local historic designation” as demanded by the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB).

This is the type of compromise the School Board should have reached much sooner.

Background

According to the Post story:

The School Board last week adopted a plan for an addition that leaves intact the façade of the building and that satisfies some of the requirements of historic designation. The planned remodel will cost between $31 million and $36 million, according to preliminary estimates, and will add 35,000 square feet of space to the school. And the board set aside $250,000 for commemorative artwork and educational displays to ensure the community knows the history of the building. School Board members said the money might also be used to enhance what is taught in the classroom about Arlington’s history of desegregation.

The vote on this proposal was 3-2 (Van Doren, Lander, and Violand-Sanchez voting for; Kanninen and Raphael voting against).

The final School Board vote on whether to grant formal local-historic-designation status to the current building is now scheduled for Dec. 8.

Discussion

This most recent Stratford compromise plan, while certainly not the only compromise that might be appropriate, does contain the two critical elements that should be present in any compromise:

  1. Honor the historic desegregation events that took place at this site, but
  2. Do NOT formally designate the current building as a “local historic site,” thereby triggering all the review and approval requirements for subsequent changes to the building that would flow from such a formal local historic designation.

As I have written recently, our community is confronted with a set of serious challenges to build new schools, fire stations, and other public facilities without clear priorities to fit the cost of all these new facilities within a budget we can afford. The School Board is absolutely correct to be concerned about unnecessarily adding to this cost at the current Stratford school site:

Such a [formal local historic] designation could hamper school officials’ efforts both at the proposed $30-plus-million renovation, but also would add hurdles for any future exterior changes to the school.

Conclusion

In light of the complexity and cost of all the new construction issues APS has to confront throughout the County, the School Board quickly should wrap this one up by voting NO on local historic designation for Stratford.

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