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WETA’s $50 million expansion in Shirlington is almost finished

The $50 million renovation of WETA’s headquarters in Shirlington is nearing completion.

After about two years, the local public broadcasting station WETA is set to finish off its 17,000-square-foot expansion on Campbell Avenue later this year. The refresh will include four floors of studios, offices, a consolidated headquarters, and more large spaces for public gatherings and screenings, Vice-President of External Affairs Mary Stewart told ARLnow.

It will also allow WETA to fully move out of the building down a few blocks at 3620 27th Street S, which was sold to the county in 2020 and is now scheduled to be torn down.

Some production is still being done out of the old building, which WETA first moved into in the 1980s, but that will stop once the renovation is completed on the building on Campbell Avenue, Stewart said.

The WETA building in Green Valley, set to be demolished soon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Externally, much of the work appears to be nearing the finish line with the expansion extending into a space that was once a courtyard. It’s the internal renovations, said Stewart, that still need some time. Those are expected to be done in “late 2023,” despite some “supply chain hiccups.” Some of the studios and public spaces could be open to employees by the summer, though.

Two main studios and one flash (smaller) studio are set to be added. One of the main studios will be used by the PBS NewsHour.

The national nightly news broadcast, which recently debuted a new pair of anchors, will get an updated set, with modern tech, video walls, and an outward-facing TV screen on the ground floor. The goal for the new set is to be “flexible,” modern, and for the video screens to allow remote interviews to be more “natural and cohesive,” said Stewart.

Also set to start filming in the new studios will be the six-decade-old teen quiz show “It’s Academic.” In the fall, the longest-running TV quiz show in history announced it was moving into WETA’s renovated building with the hope it would start producing episodes there in early 2024.

The studios will also be home to PBS NewsHour Weekend and Washington Week, as well as local programming like WETA Arts. Additionally, the update will also allow pledge drives and special broadcasts to take place in the new studios.

“We will now be a 365-day, 7-day-a-week production,” Stewart said.

She said the biggest drivers of the expansion are to modernize, allow for more production flexibility, and consolidate all of WETA in one building.

The local PBS station actually first began operating out of Yorktown High School more than six decades ago, in 1961. It moved to D.C. for a time, before consolidating operations back in Arlington in 1983 at the still-standing 3620 27th Street S. location. In 1995, WETA purchased the building on Campbell Avenue and moved its headquarters there, while production remained mostly at the other building a few blocks away.

But with this $50 million expansion, WETA will be whole for the first time in its 62-year history.

“With this expansion of our building, it means WETA will have a permanent home in Arlington,” said Stewart.

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