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Plans for Education Center’s Transformation into Classroom Space Begin to Take Shape

Plans to transform the old Arlington Education Center into a new wing of Washington-Lee High School are taking shape, with early designs calling for 24,600 square feet of classrooms in the renovated building.

Arlington school officials hope to someday add space for 600 high school students on the site, the former home of the Arlington Public Schools offices at 1426 N. Quincy Street. But first the School Board needs to sign off on a full renovation of the building, in order to welcome students in time for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Board is set to approve “educational specifications” for the facility at its meeting Thursday (Jan. 10), which sketch out the general requirements for the building’s new design. While the exact details still need to be worked out, these new plans will guide the final design work for the space.

In all, the current draft of the specifications mandates that the building will be home to 16 traditional classrooms, three classrooms designed for science classes, a standalone science lab and two rooms designated for physical education classes.

The Education Center should have the capacity for anywhere from 581 to 594 students under these plans, a key addition in high school classroom space as officials wrestle with the best way to tackle the county’s swelling enrollment numbers. The school system is also set to add room for another 1,050 high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center, as leaders have debated the efficacy of building a fourth comprehensive high school in the county.

Another 3,800 square feet in the Education Center will be set aside for office space, with a 4,000-square-foot common space and 400-square-foot “digital library” also included in the plans.

The rest of the $37 million renovation effort remains a bit up in the air.

A key question officials will need to resolve in the coming weeks is how best to free up parking on the site — according to documents prepared for the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee, planners are currently recommending that the school system reopen an existing lot on the site and allow room for 70 new parking spaces, but they’re also weighing the best strategies to open up bike access to the campus and move attendees out of their cars.

Arlington Public Schools leaders are also still trying to sort out how to connect the Education Center to the rest of W-L’s existing facilities.

The school system’s initial plans called for a new entrance to the Education Center that would help connect with a new set of stairs and ramp, which would make it easier for students to reach an access road known as “Generals’ Way.”

But planners have also begun considering the prospect of building a bridge to connect the Education Center to the northern half of W-L’s main building, documents show. However, officials have yet to settle on exact specifications for the bridge, or decide on where it would meet W-L.

So long as the School Board gives the green light to these “educational specifications” Thursday, officials plan to spend the next month finalizing the project’s budget and final designs. The Board is then set to sign off on those plans in February, and construction would start by 2020.

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