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Peter’s Take: No Historic Designation For Ed Center, Planetarium

by Peter Rousselot April 13, 2017 at 1:00 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 one local resident has filed a request with Arlington’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board to designate the site on which the Ed Center and Planetarium are located as a “historic district.”

Discussion

The HALRB, the School Board, the County Board and all candidates for seats on the School and County boards should oppose historic-district status for this site.

In her request to the HALRB for historic-district status, this one local resident argues that such a status is justified because “these structures are literally visual landmarks of our shared history.”

By this standard, every public building on publicly-owned property in Arlington should be preserved forever. That would be an abuse of the legitimate role for historic-district status in appropriate circumstances.

With the best available projections  showing that APS’ enrollment will grow from 26,000 today to 40,000 by 2032, this one resident’s suggestion to impose such a standard should be quickly repudiated.

These reactions of an APS parent on social media accurately reflect how this historic preservation proposal should be evaluated:

 This person’s wish (or even a number of people’s wish) to consider this building “historic” needs to take a much, much lower priority under the needs of our kids. Save the historical designations for buildings that really ARE significant, and leave our school system alone otherwise, please. Hamstringing our school system from using its own property for school uses sets a horrible precedent and is unacceptable, regardless of the effect it might have on this particular process, so regardless of whether you’re a fan of using the Ed Center for HS seat needs. …

Preserving the genuine historical significance of Stratford was one thing, and had some importance to all of Arlington’s history. I agreed that the events there were momentous and worthy of commemoration, even while I felt that the reaction disallowing any of the more sensible renovations, and forcing more expensive and less useful design, plus the extra time required for the whole process, amounted to overreaction. But THIS is too much.

Ed Center

Anyone who has attended meetings inside the Ed Center is aware of the age and limitations of this building. APS already has made plans to move its administrative staff out of this building and into office space at another site. Regardless of what any one person might think about the quality, beauty, utility, or continued functionality of this building, APS should not be burdened by having it designated as part of a historic district. APS should be able to use this site for another school use.

Planetarium

The same reasoning that applies to the Ed Center also applies to the Planetarium.

But, there is an added issue that is unique to the Planetarium. Only a few years ago, APS entered into an arrangement with a private organization, Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium. This organization contributed nearly $500,000 toward the $900,000 cost to replace outmoded Planetarium equipment.

My understanding is that this equipment could be moved to another site. APS should be free from historic-district restrictions to decide whether to:

  • continue to use the current Planetarium site for a Planetarium, or
  • for another school use,

taking into consideration the equities arising from APS’ arrangement with this Friends organization.

Conclusion

Historic-district status for the Ed Center/Planetarium site should be rejected.

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