Arlington, VA

With more than 150 new students set to attend classes at the Arlington Career Center in the coming school year, officials are now scrambling to free up some extra classroom space at the facility.

The county school system now plans to move eight trailers over from the adjacent Patrick Henry Elementary School to free up room for those students in the 2019-2020 school year. Career Center Principal Margaret Chung informed parents of the move in an email Monday (Feb. 25) that was subsequently obtained by ARLnow.

Chung wrote that school leaders initially hoped instead to move students into the second floor of the Columbia Pike Branch Library space, which is located in the Career Center. But county officials rejected that request, prompting the reliance on the so-called “relocatable classrooms” instead.

“To accommodate our expected growth next year and beyond, we have had to identify space for the additional students,” Chung wrote.

The downside of that move is that the trailers will take up some space currently used for the Career Center’s Animal Science program.

The program includes classes focused on animal care and veterinary science, with a variety of animals housed at the site for students to study. Chung expects that the trailers will take up the space currently set aside for three grazing animals — APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says that includes two goats and a miniature pony — forcing the Career Center to “reimagine that program for a more urban setting.”

“This does not mean that we are discontinuing our focus on animal sciences,” Chung wrote. “We will continue to maintain the smaller animals onsite for learning and instruction.”

She added that her staff has “begun to explore options to find a new home” for the animals that need to move, with the goal having them settled by the time the new trailers are in place this summer. That’s also when the school system will move the Montessori program currently housed at Drew Model School into the Henry building.

But with demand for the Career Center’s programs anticipated to only keep growing in the coming years, and the planned expansion of the building to accommodate more high schoolers still years away, Bellavia says the new trailers won’t solve all the building’s space limitations.

Accordingly, APS officials plan to ask the county for permission to use both the first and second floor of the library as instructional space, Bellavia said, with the goal of having it available for students in time for the 2020-2021 school year.

It’s a move that “comes as a surprise” to Kristi Sawert, the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and a member of working group that spent months studying the planned expansion and renovation of the Career Center.

Eventually, the school system plans to build room for another 1,050 high schoolers at the facility. But the process of doing so has been a thorny one, with Sawert and other local parents pressing the school system to add a full suite of amenities at the site to make it equivalent to the county’s other comprehensive high schools.

Still, Sawert says that the need to take up the library space for the new students was “never mentioned” during the working group’s deliberations, some of which included the library’s future. The group suggested that the county could ultimately buy up some properties near the Career Center and use that land for a stand-alone library.

“We were told repeatedly during the [working group’s meetings] that internal modifications to the Career Center would accommodate the incoming class of 150 students,” Sawert wrote in an email to concerned neighbors she provided to ARLnow.

Roughly nine years ago, the county kicked off a firestorm of controversy when it proposed shuttering the Pike library and moving its offerings to the Arlington Mill Community Center. The branch has been located at the facility since moving there in 1975.

While moving students into the library space (and the changes to the animal science program) may end up ruffling a few feathers, Chung chose to paint the impending changes as indicative of the demand for the center’s programs.

“We are so pleased to see the excitement and interest in our programs, and it is extremely rewarding to know that more and more students and families want to be part of the opportunities that our programs provide,” she wrote.

Photo 2 via @APS_AnimalSci

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