Peter’s Take: Specific Suggestions on APS Future 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.

In last week’s column, I discussed a helpful new report on APS Future Facilities Needs prepared by the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs.

The new report makes a compelling case that APS must pivot to a new way of thinking and decision making about capital projects. One commenter offered the following observation, “Yes of course but what is the ‘new way’? Some specifics would be nice.”

Today’s column offers some specifics.

Fiscal responsibility & long-range planning

Every future facilities decision should be made with fiscal responsibility and long-range planning as primary factors. The County and APS should collaborate to develop financial projections out to 2035 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case, optimistic case(s), pessimistic case(s).

The results of those projections, together with the major assumptions underlying them, should be published and shared for discussion with the community.

County & APS collaboration on site selection

The County needs to work with APS to find some sites for some new schools, starting with the next elementary in the new 2018 APS Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The County should adopt a land acquisition program to acquire acreage for school sites many years before the new schools would need to open. The County & APS should appoint a new task force, comprised of qualified, independent real estate professionals, to assist APS in negotiating for school space in vacant office space.

County-wide focus on locating new seats

Every decision on where to locate new seats should be made with a full understanding of the impacts of that decision on all of Arlington — not just the impacts on the immediately-proximate neighborhood.

Every community needs to be prepared to deal with some more intensified use of current buildings and sites. Congestion will grow inside and outside our schools. Every community will need to shoulder part of the burden, although the details will look different in each case.

APS & County resident-engagement

We must cut down on the average time it takes (currently up to 5 years) to get a new school on line. We also must introduce cost considerations into every stage of our engagement processes.

We need reformed civic engagement processes in which the public can weigh in early enough concerning a manageable number of budget-driving alternative options. We cannot continue with processes in which residents or staff are enabled to add one feature after another, never being told what the costs of doing so are nor that APS can afford X or Y but not both.

New CIP must include plans for enrollment growth beyond 2028

Last week’s column discussed the compelling evidence for future enrollment growth well beyond 2028. We won’t have enough capital funds or land (or money for land) to build up to 8 more schools beyond 2028 and service the debt in our operating budget. We need different (non-building) solutions to accommodate such further growth.


The County and APS must collaborate transparently to choose among new options for planning future facilities. Some residents may oppose each new option.

Some may not like:

  • split shifts or year-round schedules (increasing capacity by 20%)
  • using vacant office space
  • larger schools
  • centralized programs
  • using public transit for high schoolers (saving on bus parking land)

But, we must do something other than just keep building as we have.