Arlington, VA

The Arlington County Board has approved zoning changes to make it easier for county schools to add temporary trailers to school grounds.

After a brief discussion, Board members voted unanimously on Saturday (June 15) to allow Arlington Public Schools administrators to add so-called “relocatable structures” to schools without needing to go through the county’s lengthy use permit amendment process.

The approved proposal also exempted the structures from density calculations that affect things like minimum parking requirements. The new zoning regulations would subject structures to inspection every three years and would also forbid the structures from being parked on or within 15 feet of an athletic field.

The proposal includes trailers used for classrooms as well as other purposes, like cafeterias.

APS has long used trailers as a temporary fix to address overcrowding in schools, where they’ve sometimes been criticized by parents for taking up valued green space and playground space. The school system has struggled to keep up with rising enrollment, despite continued school construction and renovations.

“We are at this place for a variety of reasons” said Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “We haven’t really added significant excess capacity to those [school construction] projects for reasons, I guess, primary to being fiscally responsible.”

Board Member Libby Garvey said she supported eschewing the use permit process, which requires County Board approval, because it was too onerous on schools and “time spent doing that could be better spent planning and figuring out a better solution” to overcrowding issues. Now, schools will go through an administrative process with county staff in order to get new trailers approved.

John Chadwick, assistant superintendent in charge of facilities and operations, said schools often don’t know next year’s capacity needs until April, meaning they have to “scramble” to arrange trailers in time for the new school year in September.

Arlington Park and Recreation Commission Chair Bill Ross expressed concern Saturday that the parking requirement could contribute to the loss of schools’ athletic fields.

“They need their recreation space and we’re very careful about maintaining it as much as we can,” replied Chadwick.

The official also noted APS tries to locate the trailers on paved surfaces to prevent having to install stormwater runoff systems.

Currently, staff said APS uses 132 trailers across 25 schools, with Williamsburg Middle School having the highest number of trailers (11) of any individual school.

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