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Letter to the Editor: VHC Expansion Too Important to be ‘Held Hostage’ By Neighbors

After many long months of debate, county officials are set to have their say next month on an extensive proposal for the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion.

The project has attracted plenty of criticism from neighbors and transit advocates alike, prompting a brief delay of the county’s consideration of the 101-bed expansion of Arlington’s lone hospital.

But the county’s business community recently threw its support behind a swift approval of the project, as has another longtime civic leader. Julian Fore, a former president of the Arlington Community Foundation, is also urging the County Board to lend the project a full approval in a letter he shared with ARLnow.

Letter to the Editor:

I am an Arlingtonian and frequent user of Virginia Hospital Center (VHC).  This first-rate hospital provides excellent acute care and places an emphasis on needed follow-up services and disease management. VHC is a community jewel and is deserving of our support for its expansion project. I urge the County Board to approve the VHC application.

We should all be in favor of VHC’s desire to improve the efficiency, convenience and accessibility of healthcare. These are important community benefits and should be acknowledged. Moreover, the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center will enable our friends and neighbors who are suffering from mental illness to receive immediate outpatient care. The VHC proposal also expands the number of psychiatric beds based on a community-negotiated formula and subject to State approval.

It is important to note that under the VHC proposal, 1.3 acres of the 5.5 acre Edison Street site are either landscaped or open space to bring visual relief and more greenery to the site.  The placement of the landscaping and open space creates a “sense of place” and a welcome oasis to an urban village. This action demonstrates VHC’s commitment to enhancing the appearance and livability of the surrounding neighborhood.

At this point, we need to acknowledge that the cumulative effect of additional requested changes to the VHC proposal will affect the broader community goal of increasing the availability of low-cost, high-quality, patient-centered healthcare. VHC is the only stand-alone community hospital in the greater Washington D.C. Metro area. It is in the public’s interest to enable VHC to contain development costs, so the Hospital has more dollars available for needed state-of-the-art equipment and other patient related services.

I hope the County Board recognizes that the overall public benefits provided by the VHC expansion are too important to be held hostage by the narrow concerns of nearby neighbors.

Sincerely,

Julian Fore

ARLnow occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via HDR

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Morning Poll: Has Metro Track Work Impacted Your Commute?

In the days leading up to Metro’s latest round of major track construction work, officials rolled out a series of grim warnings about what the work would mean for commuters on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines.

With the Blue Line completely shut down between Arlington Cemetery and D.C., and huge delays on the other two lines, Metro warned commuters to only choose the service if they didn’t have any other option. County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey even predicted “extreme crowding” and “incredible chaos” at station platforms along D.C.’s urban core.

Now, with the major track work set to last several more days yet before wrapping up Sunday, the question becomes: how accurate were those gloomy predictions?

Whether you’re a Metro rider braving those conditions, or looking to avoid them on a bus or in a car, we want to know: has the track work meaningfully impacted your commute since last Saturday (Aug. 11)?

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The weekend is here, and so too, perhaps, is an end to this week’s muggy conditions.

The forecast is calling for a few scattered showers tonight and into the weekend, but those should help cool down the oppressively steamy weather we’ve seen the last few days.

That should be good news if you’re heading to the county fair, or any of the other happenings around the county this weekend.

In the meantime, catch up on our top stories of the past week:

  1. HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’ Returns to Arlington, Features Local Couple
  2. Woman Spots Worker Tattooed with Nazi Symbols at Ballston Quarter
  3. Arlington County Fair Pledges to Cover ‘Racist Caricature’
  4. Density, Development Debates Take Center Stage as Lee Highway Planning Nears
  5. County Fair Opens Today in Arlington Heights

Head down to the comment to chat about these stories or anything else local. Have a great weekend!

Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards

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The Right Note: Thinking About the School Board

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week’s announcement by Arlington Public Schools about their compliance with the new Virginia law on recess reminded me that voters do have a choice in the School Board race in November. Audrey Clement and Barbara Kanninen will debate in September, so here are eight things Civic Federation members should consider asking about.

College is becoming prohibitively expensive for many. The economy still needs people in skilled trades which can provide good careers. What more should Arlington be doing to prepare students who do not want to go on to a traditional four-year college?

Our school enrollment is increasing and new buildings are being built, under what circumstances would you support increasing the student to teacher ratio to meet enrollment within budget constraints?

If county revenues suddenly became flat, where would you look first for budget savings? Have you considered ways that administrative staff and expenses could be scaled back to ensure cuts were not made in the classroom?

This year as part of the budget process, Superintendent Patrick Murphy reported per pupil spending would be $19,235 for the 2019 school year for the anticipated enrollment of 28,027 students. But when you divide $636.7 million by 28,027 students, you arrive at $22,717 per projected student. Why does Arlington report per-pupil spending this way and shouldn’t we be honest with county residents about the total actual cost rather than relying on a manufactured formula that pegs the number nearly $3,500 lower?

Assuming the School Board had not decided to engage in a name change process for Washington-Lee, what could staff have spent their time on to improve educational outcomes and what could the money that will be needed to change the name have been spent on? As the name change process moves forward, do you support naming it after a person or do you think we should stop naming schools after people altogether?

Some in the county have suggested that increasing diversity should be a higher priority when it comes to school boundary changes. What do you think the top three considerations should be?

Many studies show that homework at younger ages has no academic benefit to students, so would you support a proposal to ban homework county-wide for all elementary school students? What about through the seventh grade?

Currently the county builds in snow days and multiple teacher in-service and conference days into the calendar. Would you support ending the school year for all students not later than June 10 unless too many snow days were accumulated?

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Progressive Voice: Bipartisan Cooperation on Trade Policy Would Be for the Greater Good

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Kevin Wolf

A core progressive value is getting things done for the greater good, which often requires bipartisan collaboration. Regardless of what happens in the November elections, trade policy is an important area for bipartisan cooperation because it affects us all.

I am a traditional Democrat but see remarkably few differences of opinion with my mainstream Republican friends on current trade developments. Basically, we don’t disagree with the administration’s general goals in concept, but fundamentally disagree with its zero sum approach (for us to win others must lose) to achieving those goals. Also, the tariffs based on national security justifications often appear to be more like protectionist industrial policies.

The United States has overwhelmingly benefitted from free trade, which has been supported by presidents of both parties. President Obama, for example, recognized that because 95 percent of the world’s consumers and 80 percent of gross domestic product are outside the United States, it was vital to open up growing markets in Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There is no doubt that trade has negative costs, and we have a responsibility to aggressively enforce our laws and help those workers disrupted by trade agreements. But, overall, America overwhelmingly benefits and our peace and economic prosperity since World War II has resulted from a global trading system that we built.

As seen in the daily news, this administration has taken a fundamentally different approach to trade policy that largely revolves around imposing tariffs. Tariffs are, however, a tax on consumers and provoke retaliation, leading to more harm than help for U.S. companies and consumers.

To put the issue in local terms, think about schools in the construction pipeline, and what a higher cost of steel for those buildings would mean. Think about higher prices on consumer goods. Think about your business and ask how it could survive if, overnight, your costs increased 25 percent.

The issue often gets boiled down to a “fair trade” versus “free trade” debate, but it is really about drawing the right lines to achieve policies that:

  • Allow for economies to benefit from their advantages (things that they do better than other countries),
  • Respect the rules of international trade, reduce barriers and foster good relations with allies,
  • Support domestic innovation policies and protect other parts of the economy harmed from unfair practices or that get left behind,
  • Reflect our values, such as protecting the environment and rights for labor, and, fundamentally,
  • Do more good than harm.

Proposing bipartisan cooperation may seem strange in the current highly partisan climate, but the issue affects too many people to leave current actions unchecked.

There is, however, recent precedent for how a bipartisan approach and an open legislative process can lead to success. Legislation became law this week that enhances U.S. government authorities to address emerging national security issues associated with foreign investment in the U.S. and the export of critical technologies. The legislation improved over time because Congress used a nonpartisan, bicameral, civil (mostly), principled process that included robust hearings, thoughtful debate and engagement with stakeholders, former officials from Democratic and Republican administrations, other subject matter experts and Trump administration officials. The debate identified the real national security and trade issues and addressed them in a way that all these interests could largely agree on.

My modest proposal here is for those on all parts of the left and all parts of the right to take a breath, collect the facts and work through the current trade issues together for the greater good.

Kevin Wolf is a long-time Arlington resident and was the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration from 2010-2017.

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Peter’s Take: APS Should Further Increase Elementary Recess Time

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As recently reported in the Washington Post, under a new state law, local school districts in Virginia (including APS) have been granted added flexibility to increase recess time at the elementary level.

Local school boards now may devote up to 15 percent of state-mandated instructional time to recess under a law that took effect July 1.

What the new law provides

The new law allows up to 15 percent of the required 5.5 hours of daily instructional time to be used for recess (roughly 50 minutes). The new law also reduces the minimum instructional hours that must be spent teaching only English, math, science and social studies/history from roughly four hours and eight minutes per day to roughly three hours and 47 minutes per day.

These are newly-authorized changes to state-mandated minimums. But, before these changes can be implemented, each local school district (including APS) must take affirmative steps to incorporate the changes into its own policies. Each local school district (including APS) must decide how much of the newly-authorized time that district wishes to shift to recess.

Benefits of more elementary recess

A large body of educational research has documented the benefits of more recess time. Among the chief benefits are these:

  • Brain Development–Physically active children are better at paying attention, have faster cognitive processing, and perform better on standardized tests. Breaks allow children time to encode classroom learning into memory.
  • Social & Emotional Skills–The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that children learn negotiation, cooperation, and problem-solving skills at recess.
  • Executive Functions–During unstructured playtime at recess, children learn to plan their own activities, switch between tasks, and set their own goals. These skills increase success in school and even in adulthood.

Increases in elementary recess time already approved in other NOVA districts

Other Northern Virginia school districts already have announced plans to take advantage of the new Virginia state law, as the Washington Post reported:

Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have opted to mandate at least 30 minutes of recess, which the law defines as “unstructured recreational time that is intended to develop teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness.” In Loudoun, kindergarten students must get at least 40 minutes. In some schools, the increased time will double students’ daily unstructured play.

APS response

On August 15, APS sent its first formal communication about the new law to elementary school parents. APS stated:

  • Many APS schools already provide at least 30 minutes of recess
  • APS policies will be updated to reflect the 30 minute per day recess minimum for elementary students

Conclusion

Our schools are all overcrowded. Almost all elementary schools have lost field space to trailers. APS parents are dealing with this reality.

APS can’t fix the overcrowding or the lack of open space overnight, but APS has appropriately recognized that it should take advantage of the new law now.

Yesterday’s APS announcement is a welcome step. However, as more and more academic pressure has been applied at younger and younger ages, APS should do still more given the critical importance of recess to young children’s development.

APS’ current recess policies (at pp. 5-6) do not contain any minimum daily recess requirement.

APS should revise these policies to mandate a daily minimum of:

  • 35 minutes of recess in grades 1-5 at every elementary school
  • 45 minutes of recess at every kindergarten
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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

If you’re looking forward to an end to this week’s steamy weather, there’s good news and bad news.

It seems set to cool down a bit Saturday, but only because rain seems likely to return. Some weather watchers are even calling for downpours and flooding.

A reminder to think twice before hopping on the Metro this weekend, as major track work starts Saturday and lasts for the next two weeks. Sunday’s “Unite the Right 2” rally in D.C. will mean additional headaches for commuters, and D.C. officials are taking precautions to prepare for the arrival of white supremacists downtown. Arlington police say there aren’t any events planned in the county surrounding the event, but some county residents are taking some online action.

Check out our event calendar for more info on what’s going on this weekend, and be sure to catch up on our top articles of the past week:

  1. Metro Warns Silver, Orange, Blue Line Riders: Stay Away, Starting Saturday
  2. Morning Poll: Should Washington-Lee HS Be Renamed?
  3. Girl Believed to be Abducted from DCA Found Safe
  4. Owner of Lyon Park Vegetarian Restaurant Dies
  5. With Amazon Looming, Developers Increasingly Link Crystal City to Potomac Yard

Head on down to the comments to discuss these stories or anything else local. Have a great weekend.

Flickr pool photo via John Sonderman

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The Right Note: Eight Things To Ask a Board Member This Month

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It’s August, and in keeping with tradition, there is no County Board meeting for your elected representatives to prepare for this month. So here are eight things to ask your Board Member when you see them out and about:

1) Would you vote to turn yourself into a full-time lawmaking body, and if so, what will taxpayers see in return? In the past, Libby Garvey has proposed a massive raise for County Board Members to bring the salaries in line with median income in Arlington, but other Board Members have passed on the idea so far.

2) Why didn’t you have a firmer grasp on ongoing operating costs for the new aquatics center before breaking ground on the project? And the follow up question is, would you vote to increase the subsidy or increase fees to cover any shortfalls?

3) Would you support removing ongoing maintenance from future bond requests? With our annual debt service ratio dangerously close to the 10 percent cap bond rating agencies look at, shouldn’t we leave room for future needs without having to resort to a big tax increase and pay for maintenance as we go? And would you commit to supporting a separate up or down vote on borrowing for any project over $25 million? If not, what about $50 million?

4) Where do you draw the line on incentives for new businesses looking to locate in Arlington? Since Board Members say the incentives they offered Amazon for their new headquarters are confidential, it would be nice to know if they have a line they will not cross.

5) What changes can you support to ensure all existing businesses in Arlington have an incentive to stay? Zoning, permitting and the gross receipts tax known as BPOL are all open for reform.

6) Speaking of zoning, would you support steps to make the construction of new housing more affordable in Arlington? Affordable housing, as was noted by a recent Sun Gazette piece, has been an issue for half a century in our county. The permitting and zoning process would be a good place to start.

7) Would you vote to double the capacity of the County Auditor’s office in 2019? At the rate we are going, the auditor may only be able to evaluate the total budget about once every 25 years which is hardly an effective avenue for reform.

8) If you could snap your fingers tomorrow and make three specific changes to our laws or budget line items, what would they be and why would they make the most impact on the community? You might receive platitudes or nebulous initiatives if you ask this question, but hopefully they would be able to advocate for concrete changes.

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Progressive Voice: Better Incentives Needed for Housing Conservation Districts to Succeed

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.

By Ralph Johnson

This past December, the Arlington County Board voted to establish 12 Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs), from areas in Westover and Penrose to portions along and near Lee Highway. The expressed intent was to “preserve and enhance” market-rate* rental housing in Arlington. Apartments in these districts are no longer allowed to be replaced “by right” with townhouses.

The County Board promised to develop “incentives” to the owners of these apartments for removing the “by right” option, such as the relaxation of some zoning requirements to allow an increase in the size of existing units or additional density to the site for in-fill and bump-outs. If the owner uses one of the options, the owner would be required to commit a number of his market-rate affordable units to become “committed affordable” units, with direct county oversight and guaranteed lower rents.

These apartments are market-rate affordable because they are old (many 75 years old), functionally obsolete buildings, with small units and few, if any, amenities. The infrastructure of the apartments is rapidly deteriorating and market rents are not keeping up with the expense of maintaining them. It is highly unlikely that a private owner will invest money to build new units that will be attached to his old structure. And, his reward for doing this is to give up some of his market units to become committed affordable units. This is not going to happen.

With this plan, the county is punishing the very owners that are now providing low-income housing. The “incentives” being discussed so far do not provide an adequate trade-off for loss of the “by right” option.

Having your apartment building placed in one of these districts reduces the value of the property. The townhouse “by right” option was the exit strategy for the owner and the lender as well. As the apartments age, the value will fall, continually and inexorably.

The owner can still apply to build townhouses on his site but now he must go through the onerous and costly site plan process, leaving him little if he comes out on the other side of this long process. He could replace his old apartment with a new building but most, if not all, of these old apartments were built prior to current zoning regulations. Under current zoning regulations for a new apartment, the owner would end up with significantly fewer units than he owns now.

So what can be done to preserve market-rate affordable housing while still ensuring property owners in HCDs can operate cost-effectively?

County staff have been working this spring and summer to recommend incentives beyond bump-outs and in-fill, and a citizen group has been advising them. Staff and the citizen group are looking into the idea of awarding TDRs (transfer of development rights) to property owners if they agree to maintain their apartment rents at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). TDRs are a tool to help preserve a special condition (such as open space or affordable housing) on a parcel of land by “transferring” its density and other development rights to a different parcel.

Here’s an example of how TDRs could work. Six years ago the County Board approved a plan that would award TDRs to owners of a historic designated apartment building if they would agree to permanently preserve the apartment building. With the sale of the TDRs to a developer, the owners were able to pay off their debt. The preserved apartment building in question faced a huge plumbing replacement job this past year but, because there was no debt payment, the owners’ cash flow was sufficient to meet this challenge.

The buildings were preserved, 84 market-rate affordable units were preserved and the means to maintain the old buildings was set. This is the kind of innovative idea that must be incorporated into the HCD program if it is to be successful.

Without creative and aggressive incentives and options for apartment-building owners in HCDs, the plan will be nothing other than an effort to hold back the tide — a futile effort and a prescription for a slow death of market-rate rental housing in Arlington.

* Market-Rate Affordable Units (MARKs) are owned by the private market, with apartment rents that are affordable (generally at 80 percent of Area Median Income [AMI]) to low- and moderate-income households by virtue of the age, location, condition and/or amenities of the property. Rents in Committed Affordable Units are generally at or below 60 percent of the AMI.

Ralph Johnson is a longtime Arlington resident who has owned and managed apartment buildings in Arlington for 45 years.

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Peter’s Take: Can This Tree Be Saved?

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Two stories recently chronicled testimony at the July 14 County Board meeting by representatives from the Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG). ATAG works to preserve and grow Arlington’s urban forest to keep Arlington green, fulfilling the vision in Arlington County’s Urban Forest Master Plan (2004).

In one story,”Our Man In Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark cast ATAG’s testimony as presenting the Board with “tough choices between the pursuit of green (as in money) and the pursuit of green (as in environmentalism).”

In the other story, Arlington Sun-Gazette reporter and editor Scott McCaffrey noted:

“Arlington County Board members on July 14 took significant flak — yet again — from tree-preservation advocates. And as has been the case in the past, the board’s collective response has been: Don’t blame us; we don’t make the rules.”

Arlington should exercise its existing powers to preserve more mature trees

County Board members are correct that Virginia’s Dillon Rule limits Arlington’s legal powers to preserve trees in some circumstances. However, ATAG and Arlington activists like Suzanne Sundburg also are correct that there are other things that Arlington currently isn’t doing, but that Arlington has the legal power to do, to preserve trees.

Here are just a few of many examples:

  • “Build up, under and over rather than out” on public sites to minimize land disturbance, tree loss and the proliferation of hardscape and impervious surfaces, as recommended by the Community Facilities Study Group (at p. 12).
  • Strengthen enforcement of existing permitting rules on public as well as private sites. Don’t give APS or County Government a free pass on adhering to permit requirements, as the county did when APS cut down more trees than permitted on the Ashlawn school site, and the County Board simply changed the permit instead of imposing penalties.
  • Identify and nominate more “specimen” trees on public land. Out of the 11.6 sq. mi. of public land, there must be more than the current 10 specimen trees worth saving. (On the 14.4 sq. mi. of private land, there currently are 16 specimen trees.)
  • Integrate stormwater management/impervious surface reduction principles into lot coverage restrictions, and apply lot coverage restrictions to all housing, not just to single-family properties.
  • Adopt a tree preservation ordinance (as Fairfax County already has) based on an existing Virginia Code provision that grants the authority. (This provision relates to conservation of trees during the land-development process in localities belonging to a nonattainment area for air quality standards.)
  • Fully fund land acquisition for public natural space. The draft Public Open Spaces Master Plan (POPS) states (at p. 24) that acquiring 204 additional natural acres is needed to serve Arlington’s growing population. But, the Board and manager have delayed funding and acquisition of these lands until 2025 or 2035 (at p. C-7). There is no guarantee that any such parcels will still exist in 2025 or 2035.

Conclusion

The County Board should embrace publicly this comment (by Gavrilo2014) to last week’s Salt Dome column:

“Healthy mature trees should not be destroyed unless there’s absolutely no alternative.”

Arlington County government can make the rules to save mature trees.

Lots more mature trees could be saved if Arlington County only would exercise the powers it already has.

The County Board should instruct the manager to ask this question: have I saved a tree today?

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

Hold on, for just one more day — today is our last day with rain in the forecast for the near future, setting up a sunny weekend.

Weather watchers project a wet Friday night before things, at long last, clear up for Saturday and Sunday. Check out our event calendar should you need some suggestions on how to enjoy this break from the rain.

And you can always catch up on our most popular stories from the last week:

  1. Clarendon Grill Space Listed for Lease
  2. Police Issue Amber Alert for Girl Allegedly Abducted from DCA
  3. Virginia Square Resident Catches Burglar on Video
  4. Man Tasered By Police at Peet’s Coffee in Clarendon
  5. Car Crashes into Lee Harrison Shopping Center

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories, your weekend plans, or anything else that springs to mind. Have a great one!

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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The Right Note: Aquatics Center Subsidies & Fees Still An Open Question

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

We were reminded this week that Arlington County still has no concrete estimates when it comes to operating costs or potential user fees for the new aquatics center. The study to determine those costs only began in earnest only after the Board voted to move forward with the project. It was not completed before they voted to move forward with construction, and will not be completed until sometime in 2019.

There are two things to watch for here. In the near term, we will find out whether the results of the study produce costs in line with the estimates provided by county staff last fall. In the long term, we will see whether the actual costs outpace the new estimates.

The million-dollar bus stop woke up the community to the escalating costs of the streetcar. The failure of the county to meet expectations on the taxpayer subsidy for the Artisphere ultimately doomed that project. Unlike the Artisphere, Arlington will not be able to divest itself from the new pool complex. If costs outpace estimates, either taxpayers will be on the hook or user fees will increase dramatically. Neither would be a popular outcome.

John Vihstadt raised the operating cost issue last November and voted against moving forward then. One plausible explanation for the other four Board members who supported the project is a total lack of confidence that a dollar figure produced from further study would not far exceed the $1.1 million annual subsidy found in the staff estimates. They certainly did not want any public pressure to account for higher ongoing costs before committing $60 million to the project.

The bottom line is that this work should have been completed before the initial vote last November so the Board could have taken this information into account. Surely it should have been done by this summer when the Board took the final vote to break ground on the project.

This is not the way the county should do business when it comes to making long-term budget commitments.

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Progressive Voice: Zero-Energy Schools are a Net Positive for Arlington

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.

By Laura Saul Edwards

Skyrocketing enrollment is forcing Arlington Public Schools (APS) to build new schools at a time when the international trade situation is driving up steel prices and a persistently high commercial vacancy rate at home is affecting revenue.

It’s the perfect time for innovation to squeeze the most from construction dollars. One way is through zero-energy buildings that produce more electricity than they consume. In the process, the buildings generate savings for the school system while battling climate change and revolutionizing learning.

The first of these certified zero-energy schools in Arlington is Discovery Elementary School. Designed to reduce energy use intensity as low as possible, the materials, siting and massing of the school did much to lower its energy consumption. The 1,710 photovoltaic solar cells atop Discovery further lowered energy consumption to the point that the building produces more electricity than it consumes.

These solar panels arrayed on Discovery’s rooftop play a major role in lowering the school’s annual utility costs by approximately $100,000 in comparison to a typical APS elementary school of similar size, according to John C. Chadwick, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations.

It cost nearly $1.6 million to install the solar panels and an online energy dashboard that displays the resultant energy data in real time. It is estimated this amount will be paid off in 15 years. The evidence so far shows the return on investment is considerable and worth replicating across the school system.

Discovery’s surplus energy will soon be even more valuable to the school system. Thanks to legislation introduced by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. (D-48) and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Dominion Energy will launch a pilot program next year that allows the school’s surplus energy to offset utility costs at other schools. In effect, the program will reimburse the school system for its energy-efficient school. Discovery’s surplus electricity could earn approximately $9,000 per year for APS.

Two more zero-energy schools will soon follow — Alice West Fleet Elementary School in 2019 and a new elementary school at the Reed site in 2021. These two schools are part of an APS vision in which a network of solar panels and energy dashboards exist at every one of its schools.

What is remarkable is how zero-energy design transforms a school building into a teaching tool.

Discovery’s energy dashboard is a tool for teaching math, science and sustainability. Teachers collect data from the dashboard to formulate homework and test questions, teach graphing and analytics, and use in writing prompts and art projects. Students also collected data from the dashboard to complete an audit that earned the school a Zero Energy Certification award from the International Living Future Institute in April 2018.

In addition, four of the school’s solar panels are on a rooftop learning lab. Through it all, students and staff take control of how their actions impact the world around them and use that information to become responsible stewards of the planet.

Perhaps a recent American Institute of Architects report said it best, noting “Discovery offers a positive example of a solution to the global crisis of climate change — and along the way emboldens students with the expectation that they are creative participants in those solutions.”

The age and condition of some existing Arlington schools mean that reaping the benefits of zero-energy design will require creativity and time. This is why APS is poised to enter a Power Purchase Agreement to lease roof space at schools to vendors who will install solar panels on them. The vendors will sell the power they produce to APS at lower rates that the utility company charges, reducing acquisition and utility costs for the school system while mitigating exposure to long-term increases, said Chadwick in May. Five schools have been selected and the resulting savings will fund zero-energy upgrades at other schools.

Zero-energy schools will also help Arlington generate 100 percent of the power it uses through renewable, sustainable means like solar by 2035, as outlined in the Community Energy Plan.

APS deserves credit for its drive to transform school buildings into zero-energy facilities. The long-term benefits outweigh criticism that might be levied against investing in such far-reaching innovation during a period of tight budgets. These facilities will generate long-term savings and income, fight climate change and make a lasting and positive impact on teaching and learning. That’s a lot of bang for the buck.

Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.

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Peter’s Take: Salt Dome Fiasco — There’s a Better Way

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On July 18, the County Board set September public hearings on a “short-term North Arlington salt storage plan” to address a rusting salt storage tank (aka the “Salt Dome”) located at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive.

Having acknowledged their failure to plan for the Salt Dome’s replacement — despite obvious, long-standing rust problems — county staff publicly declared an emergency last month, dumping the problem into the County Board’s lap while pleading for:

  • an emergency rezoning of portions of this site from S-3A to P-S;
  • construction of a temporary, new storage structure on a different portion of this site.

Not all of N. Arlington’s road salt must be stored at the Salt Dome site, making this emergency rezoning request unnecessary

County Board Chair Katie Cristol stated: “Board members agree that Arlington County must be prepared to efficiently and effectively handle snow and ice to keep our roads and residents safe this winter.”

But there is a cheaper, more efficient solution to achieve the Board’s goal. Staff’s proposed solution seemingly involves taking three weeks to empty the dome and trucking the site’s stored salt up to Baltimore. Instead:

  • a portion of existing salt reserves can remain on the Salt Dome site without removing trees and paving over green space to construct a new, temporary structure there;
  • the balance of N. Arlington’s salt reserves can be stored temporarily on the Buck site (which is already zoned for this use) or on another N. Arlington site; and
  • once the Salt Dome is empty, its demolition and replacement can begin.

As resident Rob MacKichan recounted in his July 17 Board testimony (at 4:18:58), county staff executive George May has confirmed Arlington’s road salt inventory:

– 2,500 tons of salt now inside the Salt Dome;

– 1,500 tons of salt under a tarp next to the Salt Dome;

– 3,500 tons of salt in S. Arlington.

Thus, of the 8,000 tons the Manager’s FY19 budget says we need for the coming winter, the county already has roughly 7,500 tons of salt on hand.

The simplest solution is to transfer the salt now stored in the Salt Dome to an industrially zoned, centrally located, temporary site in N. Arlington. The Buck site is one existing alternative that meets these criteria. As the Manager has indefinitely delayed long-term planning for the Buck site, temporarily storing salt there won’t delay or alter the site’s ultimate redevelopment.

Staff claims that temporarily storing salt (in a canvas teepee) on the Buck site would “break faith with the community.” Unexplained is why a temporary use consistent with current zoning constitutes “breaking faith” with Buck site neighbors, whereas summarily rezoning public parkland and converting it into paved industrial space does not constitute “breaking faith” with Salt Dome neighbors.

County staff must be held accountable

Arlington residents deserve answers to these questions:

  • Why didn’t this “conversation” take place last year, as the County Manager acknowledged it should have?
  • Which specific steps will the County take to prevent staff from–in County Board member Libby Garvey’s words –“doing this to us or our community again”?

Conclusion

It’s tough to understand why such a disruptive “emergency” solution is required when a simpler, cheaper, more efficient alternative is readily available. Temporarily storing some salt on the Buck site during the new dome’s construction still allows for appropriate long-term planning.

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

Keep the umbrellas handy for one last round of storms tonight, before things clear up a bit this weekend.

Sure, there’s another threat of major thunderstorms and floods, mirroring what we’ve had all week, but things should calm down a bit in the coming days.

Be sure to check out our event calendar for a look at what to do around Arlington while we have this reprieve from the rain.

And you can catch up on our most popular stories from the past week while you wait out tonight’s downpour:

  1. Police Arrest Maryland Man in Connection with Ballston Murder
  2. KKK Recruitment Fliers Found in East Falls Church Neighborhood
  3. Plans to Redevelop American Legion Post into Affordable Housing Complex Take Shape
  4. Upper Crust Pizzeria Along Lee Highway Shuts Down
  5. County Settles Lawsuit Alleging Police Officer Rammed into Pedestrian in Crosswalk

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories, your weekend plans or anything else local. Have a great weekend!

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