(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) The Arlington County Council of PTAs is criticizing plans to close Nottingham Elementary School and make it a “swing space” where students go when their school is being renovated.
In suggesting this change, the coalition of PTAs, or CCPTA, says Arlington Public Schools has not considered how little money it has in the next decade to spend on sorely needed renovations. It adds the move would disadvantage low-income, diverse neighborhoods that rely on schools for county and community-based services.
This spring, APS proposed closing Nottingham, in the Williamsburg neighborhood at 5900 Little Falls Road, and making it a swing space as early as 2026. It was part of a suite of proposed changes to solve for projected capacity imbalances: several schools below Langston Blvd are over-full while their counterparts north of the highway have many empty seats.
Nottingham was chosen because it would cost the least to retrofit — $5 million to expand its ability to receive buses — compared to other schools, county facilities or commercial buildings. APS also argued it would be more fiscally responsible to use the under-capacity buildings it currently has, rather than build a new school.
This proposal quickly rankled current and future Nottingham parents, some of whom argue APS made the decision on faulty projections of falling enrollment. The CCPTA joined their chorus during the School Board meeting last Thursday.
“Recent spending decisions and currently proposed spending projects have monopolized our bond issuance capacity until at least FY 2032, leaving insufficient funding for a major renovation,” CCPTA President Claire Noakes said in a statement released after the meeting.
She notes 17 of 37 school buildings have not had a major renovation in at least 20 years and are in need of upgrades, creating “a backlog of need.”
“The lack of available funds for a major renovation will cause the swing space to stay empty for six years, while other identified needs that could have been paid for with that $5 million will go unmet,” she continued.
The CCPTA illustrated its argument in a chart that shows how much money APS estimates it can issue in bonds for major renovations over the next decade.
It estimates a major renovation would exceed $25 million, based on estimates for one such project down the pike. The CCPTA say that APS would have to accumulate a few years of bond capacity, from Arlington County, to embark on a major renovation.
This squeeze is due to projects APS already has in the queue, including the new, forthcoming $180 million Arlington Career Center building and related plans to retrofit the current Career Center for the Montessori program now housed in the former Patrick Henry Elementary School. This building is set to be demolished and turned into a green space.
(Note: The chart below lists $7.5 million for the Career Center because this was tacked onto the project’s costs after APS approved the project via the previous Capital Improvement Plan.)
The CCPTA says its concerns are not new. During the last Capital Improvement Plan process, it said the School Board’s decision to approve spending on projects spending “without accounting for the long-term facilities needs of the entire community has likely jeopardized our ability to meet those needs for the majority of our schools.”
The PTA council also says the move does not think through the extent to which bussing kids to Nottingham could disrupt communities that rely on schools to access bilingual coordinators, social workers and food pantries, or get referred for legal matters related to immigration status or domestic violence interventions.
While APS proposes a way to ensure kids still get to the doctor, by giving families access to Uber accounts, she says it is still unclear whether parents will still be able to access the other services these schools provide.
It urged APS to talk to the county about whether these supports could be provided at a satellite office, close to schools under renovation. It also said APS should consider the cost of doing this when evaluating the cost-efficiency of a swing space.
The CCPTA says APS should first try targeted voluntary transfers, with a lottery system if demand exceeds supply.
“Voluntary transfers are the least disruptive tool to balance enrollment, if done in a thoughtful manner that creates or preserves economic diversity at schools,” Noakes said.
APS has used targeted transfers in the past to try and solve for enrollment imbalances, with little success recently.
Two years ago, in the face of long-standing over-capacity issues in South Arlington, APS leaned on voluntary transfers to reduce pressure at Abingdon Elementary School. Relatively few families applied to transfer, leading some School Board members to conclude APS needed to market the program better or rely on boundary processes instead.
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At Generation Hope, we’re dedicated to supporting teen parents in college as they work toward earning their degrees. We are in need of caring child care volunteers for upcoming events on Saturday, October 21st (in Washington, DC), and Saturday, November 4th (in Arlington, VA). Join our growing volunteer community and support us at an event this fall!
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Join us for Arlington’s biggest civil rights & social justice event of the year. The banquet is back in person at the Arlington Campus of George Mason University.
Our keynote speaker this year is Symone Sanders from MSNBC and former Chief of Staff for Vice-President Kamala Harris.
The Master of Ceremonies is Joshua Cole, former state delegate, NAACP President, and local pastor.
Tickets/seating are limited. Purchase your ticket today! Sponsorship opportunities available.
Join us at Church of the Covenant on Military Road every other Wednesday afternoon from 4:00-5:30pm beginning on October 18th for The Backyard: After-School Kids Club. Cost is free! The program will provide recreation, snacks, Bible stories, and other fun