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Arlington Career Center concepts move to design phase

Rendering of the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington Public Schools)

(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Arlington Career Center plans remain on track after a contentious School Board vote late last week.

Two concepts that were presented will move to the schematic design phase after a 3-1 vote at Thursday’s meeting, which also cemented the project in the superintendent’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, to be presented May 12.

The concepts are a $174.6 million “base” plan with 1,795 seats and a $158.3 million “alternative” plan with 1,345 seats.

Options for new Arlington Career Center (via APS)

The project, which could be the most expensive the school system has undertaken, will provide a new home to the county’s only career and technical education center, while potentially relieving some capacity pressure on Arlington’s comprehensive high schools.

Plans haven’t been solidified for the existing, aging Career Center building.

School Board member Mary Kadera casted the only dissenting vote, wanting to delay the project from moving forward until after the CIP passes.

She pointed to the unknown cost of repurposing or demolishing the existing Career Center and pressed the Board to carefully consider the project’s effect on debt service and ability to fund other projects — concerns also expressed by some nearby residents.

“We owe it to ourselves and the community to make decisions about its future within the context of our overall needs,” she said. “What are the down sides to the delay I requested?”

The layout of the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington County)

Chair Barbara Kanninen, the most senior member of the School Board, later appeared to admonish Kadera, who is in her first year on the board.

“I want my board colleagues to recognize that when you join the School Board, you’re not a candidate anymore. You’re not a commenter on social media or on ARLnow,” Kanninen said. “You’re heard when you speak and when you take action… And we need to be so aware of that. When we take action, that school communities hear us not supporting them, it’s heartbreaking.”

The Career Project project has been delayed in the past after the board pushed forward with ideas that proved too costly.

“We mustn’t make the same mistake again,” Kadera said.

Kanninen said the project is affordable and will not affect the school system’s other priorities.

“Everything that we had slated… everything we have on our list, infrastructure projects, HVAC, it is all already in this current three-year CIP,” Kanninen said. “We got this project in and there is still debt capacity and there is still $34 million in capital reserves.”

Kanninen added that if a more urgent project was introduced during the CIP process, APS can always adjust.

“The bottom line is we have this doubly verified number, we’ve never had this before, for this Career Center project going into the CIP,” she said. “We are solid with this number. We know what it is. We can work with it.”

Kanninen and the other two “yes” votes on the board — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein was not at the meeting — emphasized their commitment to building a new Career Center.

“For us to suddenly come back now and decide that we’re not going to do that would be irresponsible,” said Cristina Diaz-Torres.

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