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Peter’s Take: Where to Locate Arlington’s Next High School

by Peter Rousselot February 23, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

ARLnow.com reported last week that the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) has published a valuable report.

The FAC report discusses the pros and cons of many alternative locations and scenarios to enable APS to add 1,300 new high school seats by 2022. The School Board (SB) has stated that it would like to make a final decision by June 2017.

Discussion

The 37-page FAC report itself, together with the scores of comments submitted to the ARLnow.com story, illustrate the complexity and importance of this 1300-seat decision.

To allow adequate time for full public discussion of the alternatives, and to maximize the ability to get the best possible advice from the new Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC), the SB should modify its schedule to narrow the field to three currently-APS-owned sites by June, and select the final location and scenario by December.

Comprehensive or Option High School

SB members continue to deny publicly the persistent rumor that APS already has decided that the 1300 seats will be for an option high school on the Ed Center site at W-L. It would be very unwise for the SB to make any final decision without extensive community feedback.

At least one unscientific poll I have read, and many community conversations I have had, suggest that there is much stronger parent support for a comprehensive high school.

Indeed, the top-voted comment to last week’s ARLnow.com story (from “Reality Check”) supported a comprehensive high school, noting:

APS should plan for a full-size 2,000 student high school to cover the needs of 2022 and the decade after that. By the time they build this school, they will already need to start planning for another school or additional expansions. … APS should be proactive and look at this as an opportunity to create a long-term solution that will set aside the high school issue for years to come.

While there is only enough money in the current (2017-2026) CIP to pay for 1300 seats by 2022, I agree with the commenter that APS needs to plan now for the decade after 2022. For reasons I explained earlier, by 2032 APS will need to have two more high schools than it has today.

To take greatest advantage of public input on the pros and cons of whether the first 1.300 new seats belong in a comprehensive or option high school, the SB should select as its June finalists 3 school sites each of which could serve as a location for either a comprehensive or an option high school (e.g., Kenmore, W-L, Career Center).

JFAC’s Role

Numerous activists have wondered why JFAC shouldn’t be given the time to fit this 1300-seat decision into a much longer-range land-use plan. One veteran activist phrased it this way in a social media post:

The underlying problem is indeed the time frames, in that the student population has grown so quickly that every response is presented as immediately necessary with decisions to be made tomorrow based on options available right now. That is not comprehensive planning.

A six-month delay to give time for more JFAC input (and learn more info about the status of sites like the VHC site on Carlin Springs Road) is warranted.

Conclusion

A decision this important merits a thorough and thoughtful public review.

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