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Peter’s Take: APS Needs New Approaches to School Facilities Planning

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.

A helpful new Future Facilities Needs Report (“Future Facilities report”) from the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (“FAC”) makes a compelling case for new approaches to school facilities planning.

This new report was first presented to the School Board at its March 22 meeting.

Better seamless collaboration between APS and the Arlington County government is critical.

Longer-term school facilities planning, 2029-2035

As explained further in the new report, the best population and enrollment estimates available to APS and Arlington County demonstrate that APS will have significant needs for additional new seats and new schools beyond the conclusion of the planning horizon of APS’ new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), i.e., from 2029-2035.

If APS student enrollment reaches any of these levels, these are the number of additional new schools that may be required (over and above current and planned capacity):

As of today, there are no plans regarding where these students will attend school.

We must engage now in longer-term planning to answer that question. The pressures of growing enrollment, budget restraints, limited land, space and bonding capacity mean it is no longer responsible to make these decisions in isolation from other decisions on where to locate county facilities.

APS Capital Improvement Plan, 2019-2028

The new CIP that APS now is preparing is intended to guide investments in new school facilities over the next ten years. Every decision APS makes on capital projects must examine both short-term needs and long-term implications. APS must address the needs for new seats in a way that provides the additional capacity on time and on budget.

On March 22, FAC Chair Stacy Snyder summarized the FAC’s views regarding the new CIP:

The projections, timing and seat needs we have identified are as follows:

  • 725 new elementary school seats in 2025 or 2026
  • A need for additional middle school capacity in 2022, 2023 or 2024
  • 500-600 high school seats in 2021 and an additional 700-800 in 2023, 2024 or 2025

We have not recently been in an environment in Arlington in which we haven’t been able to afford to build new schools exactly how we want them or to find a place for them. But, that is the situation in which we find ourselves today.

We should seize this opportunity to develop positive, new and innovative solutions so that before we reach a certain population size we are prepared, and have positive, cost conscious and forward thinking solutions in place.

Every decision must be made transparently in the context of understanding the impacts on APS’ overall seat needs, and how that decision fits within APS’ overall budget. It’s critical for APS to “show your work,” and make it clear to the community what APS’ financial and physical constraints are. Cost must be an important consideration at every stage.

Conclusion

APS must pivot to a new way of thinking and decision making about capital projects.

APS and the County Board must collaborate to develop a comprehensive and strategic long-range plan for land use and capital projects across the county.

Residents and taxpayers must participate in decisions that explicitly recognize the trade-offs and the impacts of APS’ proposals on the entire Arlington community.

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