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APS Considering Locations for New High School

Arlington County’s new public high school could end up at one of nine proposed sites.

Arlington Public Schools is scheduled to hold a joint meeting with its Advisory Committee on Instruction (ACI) and Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital (FAC) programs tonight (Wednesday) to share options in consideration for the new school. The meeting, to be held at the Syphax Center at 7 p.m., is part of a four-month process to determine the instructional focus of the school.

To be discussed at tonight’s meeting: where to build a new high school in a county where land and open space is at a premium and many schools are overcrowded. As part of its Capital Improvement Plan, APS is planning to build 1,300 new high school seats in time for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

A new report from the FAC council identifies nine potential APS-owned sites for the new high school seats, divided between “tier 1” and less feasible, more complex “tier 2” options.

“This analysis was completed between January and February of 2017 and because of this short timeframe, focuses on APS-owned properties,” the report says. “In developing the list of properties to consider the group received input formally and informally from community members and referenced established documents from the South Arlington Working Group, the Community Facilities Study, etc.”

The tier one site options are:

  1. APS Education Center at Washington-Lee High School: Either expand the existing high school or build a new one on the Ed Center site, which is used by APS administration.
    • Pros: Existing high school-sized facilities on the site.
    • Cons: Adding 1,300 students would make W-L the largest APS school at 3,500 students and increase the use of W-L fields and facilities by around 50 percent.
  2. Gunston Middle School: Add a 1,300 seat high school to the Gunston campus or move the middle school to another site and expand the current building to house 1,300 high school students.
    • Pros: The new school could create a neighborhood high school for the southeast quadrant of the county and wouldn’t necessarily displace the middle school.
    • Cons: Adding seats at Gunston may limit the availability of the neighborhood’s community programs and may result in the relocation of the community center.
  3. Kenmore Middle School: Construct a new separate high school building on the site or move Kenmore to another location and expand the existing middle school to create a new option or comprehensive high school.
    • Pros: The property is in south Arlington and therefore could be zoned as a comprehensive high school with its own district or a option high school. The area is also student-dense and walkable.
    • Cons: The site may not have room for a comprehensive high school and its amenities, like as a football field, track, or baseball field.
  4. Wakefield High School: Either add on to the existing high school, or build a new high school on the 32.8 acre campus.
    • Pros: The site could accommodate 1,300 new students and minimize impact on existing students.
    • Cons: This would create a “majority minority” concentration of students in the southern portion of Arlington County that “could be politically sensitive without significant redistricting,” planners said.

The tier two options are:

  1. Arlington Traditional School: Convert and expand the site’s buildings to accommodate 1,300 new high school students, potentially potentially moving or closing the elementary school.
    • Pros: The site is somewhat centrally located and houses one of the smaller programs in the county, meaning fewer students impacted.
    • Cons: This plan requires a major conversion from an elementary school to high school, which would mean expanding and updating the existing facility, up to a “complete tear-down.”
  2. Career Center/Patrick Henry Elementary School: This option would develop a master plan for the site, which would expand Arlington Tech and add a 1,300 seat high school, potentially by replacing the Patrick Henry building. Another scenario is to build a new elementary school to house the Montessori program and replace lost facility at Patrick Henry.
    • Pros: Co-location of multiple high school programs could allow for ebb and flow of enrollment at the various programs.
    • Cons: The plan could mean 2,500 students use the site every day, “clearly intensifying the use of what would be the smallest high school.”
  3. Drew Model School: The plan would add a new high school on the 8.4 acre campus.
    • Pros: The site would serve an underserved part of Arlington and “could create a new group of potential walkers for a zoned school.”
    • Cons: The existing facility is half on park land, complicating the plan. The school also “has deep history with the neighborhood,” planners said.
  4. Hoffman-Boston Elementary School: Update and expand the school building and relocate the elementary school seats.
    • Pros: Hoffman-Boston was originally built as a high school, so demolition wouldn’t be necessary. Columbia Pike also has “strong transit options.”
    • Cons: The conversion would require renovation of existing facilities and an addition.
  5. Reed School site: A new high school would be built at the side of the Reed School or a new elementary school would be built to house the Arlington Traditional School in conjunction with the ATS high school option.
    • Pros: The new school would be located in a walkable community near shops that would benefit from increased foot traffic. The school would also be located in an area where a significant high school-age population is projected.
    • Cons: The Reed campus is too small for a 1,300-student school in similar scope to other nearby high schools and there are potential historic preservation issues due to the 1938 building.

Should the new high school displace an existing elementary or middle school or other APS program, the FAC council identified a number of sites for the displaced programs to go, including:

  • Reed School
  • APS Education Center
  • Virginia Hospital Center urgent care site on Carlin Springs Road, which is in consideration for a land swap between VHC and the county
  • Wakefield High School campus
  • Aurora Hills Community Center / Virginia Highlands Park
  • Gunston Middle School

The various options are all likely to garner opposition from parents and members of the community, but an Arlington resident involved in the creation of the report emphasized that it is early in the process, that any option is going to be “imperfect” and some shared sacrifice may be needed.

“The report is just a starting point for discussion with the instruction advisors and staff for APS,” the resident said. “It is important that we all have a common understanding of what could be done or what would be needed to move forward with certain proposals… Anything you can do to promote discussion as the community hopefully finds consensus or at least an understanding to accept and support APS going forward, would be an invaluable service.”

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