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The Water Pollution Control Plant in South Arlington (via DES/Flickr)

Your poop could give Arlington County natural gas to power buildings or buses.

The county is developing plans to upgrade its Water Pollution Control Plant, where local sewage goes. One change involves installing technology that can harness the methane emitted when human solid waste is processed, turning it into renewable natural gas, a process some municipalities have already implemented.

The energy could be used to power the wastewater plant, homes and commercial buildings or become an alternate fuel for ART buses. The “sludge” created through this process can also be used as a fertilizer for gardens, forests, farms and lawns. (If you’ve ever used Milorganite brand fertilizer, you’ve used dried sewage sludge from Milwaukee.)

How sewage can become power (via Arlington County)

Improvements to the wastewater treatment facility, to the tune of $156 million, are part of a $177 million bond request for utilities upgrades, which also includes improvements the regional Washington Aqueduct system ($15 million) and new gravity transmission mains ($3 million).

Funding for this work would come from a half-billion dollar bond referenda that voters will be considering on Election Day tomorrow (Tuesday). Over $510 million will go toward this work as well as a host of initiatives, upgrades and maintenance projects that Arlington County adopted as part of its 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan.

Some big-ticket items have already grabbed headlines, like the $136 million requested to build a new Arlington Career Center campus and $2 million to design a proposed Arlington Boathouse on the Potomac River near Rosslyn. But there are dozens of other upgrades proposed for facilities that Arlingtonians of all ages use on a regular, and sometimes daily, basis.

Renovations to existing county buildings and the construction of new ones surpass $53 million.

Highlights include:

  • $13.1 million for various renovations to Arlington’s police headquarters and, for the county’s courts building, technology upgrades, new finishes, a redesigned entrance and a relocated Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts division.
  • $12 million to fund the construction and renovation of some floors of 2020 14th Street N. to make room for ACFD Fire Marshal and Battalion Chiefs offices and other public safety staff and functions. It will also see the replacement of the building’s 60-year-old HVAC system.
  • $7.5 million to acquire land next to the Serrano Apartments to build a fire station there and improve response times on the west end of Columbia Pike, given the pace of development along the Pike.

Overall, Arlington Public Schools is asking for $165 million. Of that, some $12.24 million would pay for safer school entrances, a measure many school systems nationwide are implementing in the wake of high-profile shootings, and new kitchens to allow more meals to be made in-house.

“Upgraded kitchens will allow students to eat high-quality meals that include more fresh fruits and vegetables that are prepared on-site,” according to APS. “The entrance and security vestibule updates will comply with current safety and security standards while ensuring all visitors check in at the main office.”

Existing and modernized school kitchens (via APS)

Another $16.8 million would pay for a new roof for Escuela Key, the Spanish-language immersion elementary school, HVAC replacement at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School and lighting upgrades across schools.

The Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation is asking for nearly $22.5 million for a dozen projects.

That includes some funding $1.5 million to replace and renovate some stretches of the county’s nearly 40 miles of off-street, multi-purpose trails, 56 pedestrian bridges and 11 low-water fords.

Preschool- and school-aged kids could have new playgrounds at Bailey’s Branch, Monroe and Woodmont parks sometime in 2024 ($2.8 million). Douglas Park will see $2 million in improvements, including a new picnic shelter, pedestrian bridge, stormwater management, invasive species removal and reforestation.

Athletes who play at Kenmore Middle School could have new turf fields ($300,000).

There’s $1.1 million in funding to design new facilities at Short Bridge Park, near the border of the City of Alexandria, as well as $1.8 million to redesign Gateway Park in Rosslyn, which the budget says is “difficult and dangerous to access due to the surrounding high-speed roadways” and is “under-utilized.”

People who live in the Ballston and Virginia Square areas would be able to get in on the ground floor of master planning processes ($1.5 million) next year to upgrade Maury, Herselle Milliken and Gum Ball parks starting as early as 2025.

The second, $4.4 million phase of work on Jennie Dean Park will move forward, including demolishing the existing WETA building, two parking lots and a portion of 27th Street S., installing a lighted basketball court and converting the existing court for tennis use.

The growing pickleball population, sometimes at odds with neighbors, and the dirt trail-less mountain bike enthusiasts could get new facilities through $2 million to convert tennis courts at Walter Reed Community Center for pickleball use, draw pickleball lines on some multi-use courts and fund “design improvements to natural surface trails and mountain biking improvements.”

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Early voting at Arlington County government headquarters on Sept. 23, 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Early voting got off to a muted start today (Thursday) at the Arlington County government headquarters in Courthouse.

“We had a line of five voters when we opened at 8 a.m.,” Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer told ARLnow. “We’ve had 72 voters as of 11 a.m. Flow is slow but steady. The first day of voting last year we processed around 400 voters. We might be slightly under that today.”

Through Nov. 4, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots at the county’s election offices for Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million.

One seat on the Arlington County Board is up for grabs, with incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and independents Adam Theo and Audrey Clement vying for the spot.

One seat on the Arlington School Board is open once member Barbara Kanninen steps down. Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and Vell Rives, her independent challenger, are competing for the position.

Arlington’s representative to U.S. Congress, Rep. Don Beyer, is running again for re-election. His challengers are Republican Karina Lipsman and independent Teddy Fikre.

The bonds, if approved, would fund some of the next 10 years’ worth of capital projects for the county and Arlington Public Schools. If needed, the Arlington County Board can reallocate approved bond funds to other projects within the same bucket, such as transportation or parks.

Though interest rates have been rising, the county says it typically gets lower rates, relatively speaking, thanks to its high credit rating.

“Arlington currently holds AAA general obligation bond ratings from the three major bond rating agencies,” the county website says. “These strong ratings allow the County to borrow at very low interest rates, resulting in lower costs to Arlington taxpayers.”

The planned bonds are as follows.

Metro & Transportation ($52.63 million)

  • Paying Arlington County’s share of Metro’s capital improvement program: $42.6 million
  • Paving local streets and roads, $7.2 million
  • Conducting maintenance on local vehicle and pedestrian bridges, $1.5 million
  • Improving street lighting, $1.1 million
  • Replacing intelligent transportation system devices, $200,000
  • Addressing missing links in curbs and gutters, $100,000

Parks and Recreation ($22.46 million) 

  • Parks maintenance capital and master planning projects, $10.8 million
  • Additional funding for the completed renovations at Jennie Dean Park, $4.4 million
  • Initial planning and designs for the Arlington Boathouse, $2.9 million
  • Arlington’s Natural Resiliency program, which conserves natural resources makes upgrades at parks to prevent destructive flooding, $2 million
  • Funding for the Emerging Uses program, which responds to “emerging recreational activities and casual use spaces,” $2 million
  • Maintenance of synthetic turf fields, $300,000

Community Infrastructure ($53.3 million) 

  • Courthouse and Arlington County Police Department building upgrades, $13.1 million
  • Facilities design and construction, $12.7 million
  • Courthouse renovations and infrastructure, $12 million
  • Fire station replacements and additions, $7.4 million
  • Neighborhood Conservation projects, $5 million
  • Facilities maintenance capital, $3.1 million

Arlington Public Schools ($165 million) 

  • Career Center expansion project, $135.97 million
  • Improvements to kitchens and secure entrances, $12.24 million
  • Major infrastructure projects, $16.8 million

Stormwater ($39.76 million)

Capacity Improvements

  • Spout Run Watershed, $13.26 million
  • Langston Blvd and Sycamore Street culverts, $6.75 million
  • Torreyson Run Watershed, $5.95 million
  • Other capacity improvement projects, $8 million

Water Quality Improvements

  • Gulf Branch Stream, $2.75 million
  • Sparrow Pond Watershed, $1.275 million
  • Other water quality improvements, $1.75 million

Utilities ($177.36 million) 

  • Meeting more stringent environmental regulations at the Water Pollution Control Plant, and increasing capacity there to meet Arlington’s growing population and development, $159.5 million
  • Improving the Washington Aqueduct system, $15 million
  • Improving gravity transmission mains, $2.9 million

The deadline to register to vote this year is Oct. 18. Voters can check their registration status online through the State Dept. of Elections.

Those planning to vote on Election Day may have a change in their polling location. Arlington County is sending out mailers with their district and polling place information for the General Election.

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Morning Notes

A runner passes a construction site in Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Capital Plan, Bond Referenda Approved — “The Arlington County Board has unanimously approved a $3.9 billion ten-year Capital Improvement Plan that focuses on stormwater management and flood response, climate and environmental programs, parks, transportation, and community infrastructure over the next decade… [as well as] bond referenda totaling $510.5 million to be put before Arlington voters on the November ballot.” [Arlington County]

GOP Group Wants Fewer Vote Drops — “A Republican group seeking to have Arlington election officials reduce the number of 24-hour voting dropboxes in the county got something of a cold shoulder at the July 14 Electoral Board meeting… Representatives of a national Republican voter-integrity effort asked that the number of dropboxes be reduced from nine to as few as three, citing both cost and ballot-integrity issues.” [Sun Gazette]

Primary Voting Stats — “About 57 percent of the just over 25,000 voters who cast ballots in the primary did so on Election Day at polling precincts, according to data reported to Arlington Electoral Board members on July 14. About 30 percent cast ballots by mail, and the remaining 13 percent cast ballots in advance at one of three early-voting sites.” [Sun Gazette]

Car Show This Weekend — The Green Valley antique and classic car show is happening this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at Drew Elementary School. The 8th annual event will also feature a parade. [Twitter]

Family Bike Ride Planned — From Kidical Mass ARL: “Tour de Spraygrounds! This Saturday 7/23 meet at 11am at Mosaic Park in @Ballston (come early to play in the water!) We’ll bike on neighborhood streets down to the sprayground at @PenroseSquare. All are welcome. Tell your friends.” [Twitter]

Car Crash PSA — From Dave Statter: “Video of the crash with 1 hurt this afternoon on I-395N at Boundary Channel provides a good reminder. Before getting out of your vehicle after a collision make sure it’s safe to do so & your vehicle is secure & won’t continue to roll.” [Twitter]

Arlington-Born Gym Expanding — “A boutique gym is bringing its boxing-inspired workouts to Fairfax County. Introduced to Rosslyn in 2018, BASH Boxing will soon extend its reach beyond Arlington County for the first time with a new studio at the Mosaic District in Merrifield.” [FFXnow]

It’s Thursday — Humid and partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 92 and low of 78. Sunrise at 6:02 am and sunset at 8:31 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Looking down Lynn St. on a rainy day (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Debating the Arlington Way — “Their unsigned flier asks whether the push for new housing types marks ‘the end of the Arlington Way,’ defined as a ‘long-standing tradition of public engagement on issues of importance to reach community consensus.’ The new ‘Arlington Way 2.0,’ it accuses, involves ‘lack of respect,’ ‘failed analysis’ and ‘governance problems’ as ‘partisans grab control of decision-making and steamroll the public.’ Those harsh words made me wonder, must the Arlington Way always mean ‘you get your way?'” [Falls Church News-Press]

CA Says No to Hypothetical Abortion Prosecutions — Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is among “more than 80 elected attorneys from around the country [who] vowed not to prosecute individuals who seek, assist in, or provide abortion care.” [Common Dreams, Vox]

Gunfire in Green Valley — “3700 block of Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 2:35 a.m. on June 24, police were dispatched to the report of a dispute. Upon arrival, it was determined that following an ongoing dispute between known individuals, the suspect entered the victim’s home. The victim confronted the suspect and a verbal altercation ensued outside the home, during which the suspect brandished a firearm and discharged it. No injuries or property damage were reported.” [ACPD]

Dozen Officers Graduate from Academy — “Family, friends and colleagues gathered on June 22 to celebrate the achievements of Arlington County Police Department’s 12 newest officers as Session 146 graduated from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. During the graduation, the officers took their solemn oath to serve and protect the Arlington community and safeguard the Constitutional rights of all.” [ACPD]

Hit-and-Run Driver Causes I-395 Crash — From Dave Statter: “#caughtoncamera: For the 2nd time in less than 24 hrs a crash at I-395S Exit 8C. 3 cars involved, with the one causing it driving off.” [Twitter]

Awards for Arlington Students — “ACC/Arlington Tech TV Production students Lina Barkley & Ellie Nix take the 1st place gold medal for VA at the National SkillsUSA Television (Video) Prod. contest in Atlanta. Congrats to our National Champions! We are so proud!” [Twitter, Twitter]

CIP Hearing Planned Tomorrow — “Comments are welcome on Arlington’s proposed $3.9 billion FY 2023-2032 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) during a County Board public hearing on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.  The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. and those interested may register to speak in person or virtually by visiting the County Board website.” [Arlington County]

Fairfax Mulls Route 29 Name — “It’s possible Fairfax County will not be following Arlington’s lead in renaming its stretch of U.S. Route 29 as ‘Langston Boulevard.’ Fairfax County supervisors wish to rename Lee and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways… but a county survey – with an admittedly small sample size – found the public would prefer they just go with the roads’ numbers.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Monday — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 81 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:47 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington residents have until the end of this month to tell the county what improvements they want to see on a portion of Arlington Boulevard Trail.

The community engagement portion of the Arlington Boulevard Trail Study, which looks to improve the trail between N. Jackson Street and N. George Mason Drive, started last week with an online kick-off meeting.

The study aims to “develop design concepts for improving existing sections of the trail” by increasing accessibility in compliance with federal law, widening the trail to at least 10 feet, removing barriers along the trail and providing direct path access where it is feasible, among other things, study manager Bridget Obikoya said.

“This is the time to talk about the things that you might like to see in the project corridor, not just changes to existing facilities, but also new connections,” county spokesperson Nate Graham said. “This is the wish list process.”

The public engagement form is open online through this coming Thursday, June 30, according to the study’s website. Respondents can leave their suggestions and comments on an interactive map of the trail being studied, Obikoya said.

There have been a total of 29 crashes along this portion of Arlington Blvd (Route 50) between 2018 and 2021, which makes it a part of the “High-Injury Network” in the county, according to a road safety audit.

“The High-Injury Networks are 7% of the 550 miles [of Arlington roadways], yet 78% of auto crashes happened on these networks,” she said.

Obikoya pointed out different problems — such as slow drainage, narrow trails and difficult crossings — along the 1.3 miles of trail, which was divided into seven segments in the study.

Other areas that could be improved include enhancing the crossings of highway ramps and building contra-flow facilities like bike lanes that allow cyclists to ride in the opposite direction of vehicle traffic on one-way service roads along the trail, according to the 2019 Master Transportation Plan — Bicycle Element.

There should also be more infrastructure to minimize conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians along the trail, while segments with serious traffic congestion should be widened or bypassed, according to the 2011 Master Transportation Plan’s Pedestrian Element.

Audience members at the meeting raised various questions after Obikoya’s presentation. One gave several suggestions, including the addition of sidewalks on the southern Arlington Blvd service road, while noting that cyclists are not able to see pedestrians when cycling on the on-ramp near the Goodwill on S. Glebe Road.

The County Board allocated $200,000 to the study in the board’s fiscal year 2022-24 Capital Improvement Plan.

A community design workshop is scheduled for the fall and the draft report for the study is set to be published at some point this winter, according to the presentation.

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Arlington residents may see improved sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in a few neighborhoods in the near future.

The County Board approved funding for four projects at its meeting on Saturday (June 18).

Among the projects:

  • Constructing one block of missing sidewalk on S. Irving Street between 6th and 7th Streets S.
  • Constructing a section of accessible sidewalk at the service alley entrance of the AT&T building on 9th Street S. between S. Walter Reed Drive and Highland Street, near Columbia Pike.
  • Constructing new transit stops, intersections, mid-block pedestrian crossing and bicycle racks at three pedestrian crossings on 28th Street S. between S. Meade Street and 26th Street S.
  • Constructing pedestrian crossings on N. Fairfax Drive between Arlington Blvd. and N. Barton Street, near Rocky Run Park.

The four projects are projected to cost around $1.7 million in total, according to a board report.

A Google map showing the proposed project area on S. Irving Street (via Arlington County)

The proposed project on S. Irving Street is set to build a continuous accessible sidewalk on one side of the road, between 6th Street S. and 7th Street S., which includes accessible curb ramps, existing streetlamps and on-street parking.

A little over 50% of local survey respondents believed the proposed project would make them feel “much safer” while walking there. Some expressed concern about the distance and visibility of crossing 7th Street S., according to the project’s community engagement summary.

A map showing the proposed project area on 9th Street S. (via Arlington County)

The proposed project on 9th Street S. would modify the driveway to the AT&T building so that its curbs can be in an accessible sidewalk condition compliant with federal law. The county collaborated with the company for the design plan.

“This project will support a safe walking environment adjacent to the AT&T building, where there is high traffic volume and children at play in the area,” AT&T Mid-Atlantic Region Operations Manager Robert Weaver stated in a letter of support.

A map showing the proposed project area on 28th Street S. (via Arlington County)

The proposed project on 28th Street S. aims to reduce speeding and shorten the distance of pedestrian crossing by narrowing the roadway. This location was high on the county’s list of potential reconstruction because it has a history of car crashes and speeding.

Thirty percent of respondents who walked in that area believed the proposed project would make them feel “much safer.” Many respondents also expressed concern for cyclists along that road. However, the county determined that the road is too narrow for a bike lane, according to the project’s community engagement summary.

A map showing the proposed project on N. Fairfax Drive (via Arlington County)

The proposed project on Fairfax Drive, near Rocky Run Park, aims to increase the visibility of pedestrians crossing the street and shorten the crossing distance. It also proposes removing the mid-block crossing closest to the intersection with N. Barton Street.

Many people who gave feedback to the county raised concerns with the crossing removal, however. Almost 20% of survey respondents who walked in the said the proposed changes would make them feel less safe when walking, according to the project’s community engagement summary.

But the county will still remove it because it is less than 100 feet away from a crosswalk controlled by a “All Way Stop” sign.

All four projects were part of the Neighborhood Complete Streets Program, which aims to “make streets safe for all users of all ages and abilities” and “preserve or enhance neighborhood character,” according to its commission’s website.

The Arlington County Transportation Commission earlier voted unanimously to support the projects, but opined that the Irving Street could have been better.

More from a letter sent to the Board by the Transportation Commission, below.

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The School Board reviews the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee report at a work session (screenshot via Arlington County)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) An advisory group meant to guide facilities planning has several concerns with Arlington Public Schools’ proposed capital spending plan, namely the cost of a new Arlington Career Center.

APS would only be able to construct the Career Center by nearly maxing out its debt capacity, according to a Joint Facilities Advisory Committee report published June 7.

The county and APS cap debt repayments at 10% of their projected budgets. Under the School Board’s proposed CIP budget, the debt service is expected to remain around 9.8% from fiscal year 2027 to fiscal year 2032, according to JFAC’s report, leaving little wiggle room for maintenance projects and unforeseen needs.

At the same time, the CIP contains “discrepancies in the accounting for available bonding capacity for APS,” JFAC says.

The group Arlington Parents for Education explained in a newsletter today:

APS shares bond capacity with the county. This week, it was revealed that the county has a very different idea of how much APS has available in bond capacity; the County’s CIP has only $78 million in available bond capacity for APS. This is a discrepancy of $242 million.

“The main concern of JFAC is this CIP in the broader context all the known facility and infrastructure needs of APS and ACG,” JFAC’s chair and vice chair wrote in a recent letter. “It presently does not transparently demonstrate long-term financial viability for short term projects and expenditures or demonstrate that long-range planning processes for land use or capital projects have been fully considered.”

The lack of transparency “makes it harder for the public to recognize the planning commitments APS is making in this CIP,” the committee report stated.

However, APS believes it is being fiscally prudent.

“I don’t think we have anyone on this School Board or anyone on the staff is recommending that in the out years, we bump our CIP up to the maximum 9.8% target that we used to come up with that bonding capacity. It was just to show that there is room available in the out years for other projects that will come in those next CIPs,” said Assistant Superintendent Leslie Peterson during a work session reviewing the committee report.

The proposed CIP was also vague on the details of how the capital projects would be funded, the JFAC report said. The proposed budget did not set a specific amount of funding for long-range plans to renovate existing facilities, nor did it account for their cost estimates in setting its desired bond capacity, according to the report.

The School Board and county government projections for bond capacity are also at odds, with the School Board budgeting $242 million more than the county.

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said bond capacity may open up if the county — and, by extension, APS — receives more revenue than what was projected, allowing the board to carry out all the identified projects. If that doesn’t happen, the School Board would then discuss how to best handle new capital spending needs.

“If that’s the way it is, we’re gonna have that conversation then, there’s no pre-having that conversation,” she said.

The proposed CIP estimates the new Career Center building, which would be the most expensive project the school system has ever undertaken, would cost around $174 million. It would be funded by about $136 million from a 2022 bond referendum, as well as $37.4 million in past bond funding.

The JFAC report expressed concern at this decision since the School Board would be asking for a large sum of money at “a time of high inflation and financial uncertainty.”

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Arlington County staff present the details of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $3.9 billion CIP for 2023-32 (via Arlington County)

From a new Columbia Pike library to a dedicated pickleball court, County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed 10-year $3.9 billion capital improvement plan would fund projects across Arlington.

The first 10-year plan for capital projects in four years would budget for infrastructure projects between 2023 and 2032. The CIP proposal, slated for adoption in July, is a 40% increase from the plan approved four years ago, Schwartz said in his presentation to the County Board Tuesday.

“This CIP proposal aims to address current and future capital needs in Arlington County as we emerge from the financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We want to focus on key planned investments in addition to following through on commitments from prior plans to benefit county residents and businesses long-term.”

Stormwater projects would receive $331.3 million in funding, including $77 million for Spout Run, $14.7 million for Torreyson Run, $28.5 million for Crossman Run and $49.5 million for Lubber Run — all flood mitigation efforts. Streams and water quality funding is proposed at $52.1 million and maintenance at $50.2 million.

A slideshow outlining what Arlington’s investment in environmental goals looks like in the 2023-32 CIP (via Arlington County)

While Metro remains one of the largest investments in the CIP, at $356.4 million, the proposal also outlines $1.8 billion in non-Metro transportation funding. This includes $16 million for Vision Zero street safety improvements program, $64 million for bridge replacements and renovations, and $89 million for bike and walk programs.

Other highlights include:

The proposed CIP includes new park programs that focus on emerging needs and natural resiliency, a new fire station on the west end of Columbia Pike, and facilities consolidation to enable remote work for county staff.

Schwartz said the needs of the county have changed since the last 10-year CIP, as the county is in “a world shaped by the pandemic where we do our business differently.”

Michelle Cowan, deputy county manager overseeing the Department of Management and Finance, noted during the presentation that the finance department works entirely remotely now, potentially a harbinger of a money-saving reduction in the county’s office footprint.

“We have reduced our footprint which… allows us then to do some really strategic consolidations that you’ll hear about in other county buildings that could get us out of some aging assets,” Cowan said.

The CIP will continue to fund debt service obligations for the investment in housing at Barcroft Apartments, construction of Fire Station 8, which is scheduled to be completed in fall 2023, and the design and planning process for the proposed Arlington boathouse.

Preliminary construction funding for the lower boathouse site is included in the later years of the CIP.

This CIP returns funding levels for the Arlington Neighborhoods Program, formerly the Neighborhood Conservation Program, which are projects identified by individual neighborhoods and include street improvements, streetlights, parks, beautification and sidewalks. The program had steep cuts in previous CIPs.

The 2023-32 CIP proposal would provide $85.2 million in funding to the program. That includes $4 million of funding for projects in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, and would increase to $9 million in 2030 and 2031, Director of Management and Finance Maria Meredith said.

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Arlington School Board members clap after approving the final budget for the 2022-23 school year (via Arlington Public Schools)

The Arlington School Board unanimously approved a $749.9 million budget for the 2022-23 school year during its meeting Thursday night.

Revenue for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes a $563.8 million ongoing transfer from the county, a one-time transfer of $20.5 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2021-22 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $21.3 million in reserves.

The budget process, Chair Barbara Kanninen noted, went well. It was the first time in four years that the School Board was presented a balanced budget — as opposed to recent years when the superintendent proposed spending more than was anticipated in revenue.

Similar to the county budget, school system funding in the upcoming year emphasizes compensation for staff.

“We want to support our students as much as possible but a big part of that is recruiting and retaining that outstanding staff,” Kanninen said.

The budget will allow the school system to begin implementing its new compensation plan, which will update salary scales, provide consistent step increases and catch up from missed missed step increases in the past. On average, teachers, principals and administrators will see a 6.8% pay increase, while support staff will see an average of a 9.5% increase.

School Board members Mary Kadera and Cristina Diaz-Torres said when they first heard the proposed compensation increases, they thought it would be a “moonshot.”

The budget reduces class size by two students at the elementary level and one student at the high school level, funds additional school-based equity and excellence coordinators and an equity data dashboard, and adds more resources for English learners.

Adjustments to school bell times, which were also approved at the meeting, are expected to result in nearly $2 million in savings for the school system. The changes reduce the number of school start and end times from eight across APS to five, thus streamlining school bus routes and schedules.

The School Board added to Superintendent Francisco Durán’s proposed budget, including funding for four psychologists and social workers, trauma-informed professional learning, the National Board Certified Teacher program, a partnership coordinator, and a math curriculum supervisor.

A chart noting the School Board’s additions to the superintendent’s proposed budget (via Arlington Public Schools)

Other updates to the budget included $147,871 in funding to open the planetarium in October or November 2022 and hire a director, $391,484 for four high school math coaches and $628,000 for a year of tutoring for grades 6-12.

A few public commenters noted the disparities in minority students’ test scores and the need for more funding to compensate for lost learning during the pandemic.

“We took a first step, we have more steps to go until we see each and every one of our students be successful and right now we have a lot of students that are still having some academic and social emotional needs,” Durán said in response.

The Virginia General Assembly still has not adopted a budget for the Commonwealth, so the School Board will likely have to amend the budget to account for any state revenue changes. If there’s a shortfall, the superintendent proposes to fund them with reserves.

Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)

The School Board also kicked off its Capital Improvement Plan process, as Durán put forward his proposal, which totals $388.23 million between 2023 and 2032.

The CIP will be the first 10-year plan since 2018. The school system has only budgeted three years in advance since, in part due to budgetary uncertainty during the pandemic, but can return to the longer range planning now that APS is in a better place fiscally, Durán said.

All proposed project funding includes money set aside for escalation and inflation, as well as contingency.

While about 45% of the CIP will go toward the Arlington Career Center project, Durán said his proposal incorporates many other improvements. He proposed the larger of the two concept options for the career center, which could accommodate 1,795 students. The center is the county’s only career and technical education center.

“This is a major part of our CIP, certainly, but not the only one,” Durán said.

A pie chart in a slideshow depicts that 45% of the 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan is budgeted for the Arlington Career Center (via Arlington Public Schools)

His presentation to the board also highlighted kitchen upgrades, security vestibules at schools, athletic field replacements and accessibility enhancements.

The first school renovation would have a target fall 2026 start — but the school system hasn’t determined which school will be upgraded.

In the proposal, new synthetic turf would be installed at Wakefield High School in fiscal year 2023, at Washington-Liberty High and Williamsburg Middle School in fiscal year 2024, and at Greenbrier  Park (Yorktown High School) in fiscal year 2025. Kenmore’s field will also be converted but costs will be shared with the county, Durán said.

An HVAC replacement at Barcroft Elementary School is under design and Randolph Elementary’s roof replacement will go to bid this fall.

Other items included in the proposal were upgrades to finance and HR staff software, known as STARS, replacing lock and key systems, and PA system replacements at six schools.

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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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Morning Notes

Jan. 6 First Responders Recognized — “The Arlington County Board today gave special honors and recognition to members of Arlington County Police Department, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office for their efforts to respond to the Capitol riot on January 6. Approximately 60 personnel were honored during the event today at the County Board Recessed meeting.” [Arlington County]

Fmr. APS Students Staying in Private School — “Ten-year-old Jonah Kaufman of Arlington is proud of his 4th grade report card from the private school he attends in northern Virginia… it was a far different story in 2020 when Jonah and his 8-year-old brother, Noah, were in a public school, trying to learn from home during COVID-19. ‘They weren’t learning,’ Jena Kotler, the boy’s mother says. ‘They were sad, they felt isolated. It was just crazy.'” [WJLA]

Man Pulls BB Gun on Beer Thief — “At approximately 11:32 p.m. on July 19, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force… the male victim was walking in the area when the suspect approached and engaged him in conversation. When the victim walked away, the suspect began chasing after him. The victim fell to the ground and the suspect demanded the beer he was carrying. After the suspect took the beer, the victim retrieved a BB gun from his vehicle and confronted the suspect.” [ACPD]

Sluggish Fundraising in County Board Race — “The four candidates for County Board had a total of less than $14,000 on hand at the end of June, according to new figures from the Virginia Department of Elections. That’s not an average of $14,000 per candidate. It’s $14,000 for all candidates. Takis Karantonis, the incumbent board member… reported $5,301 on hand as of June 30, according to filings made public July 15. Audrey Clement, a frequent candidate for political office, reported $3,286.” [Sun Gazette]

New Capital Improvement Plan Approved — “The Arlington County Board has approved a $1.25 billion three-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that focuses on meeting Arlington’s existing commitments, addressing critical infrastructure maintenance, and beginning investments in long-term plans and programs that will ensure sustainability over the years to come.” [Arlington County]

Air Quality Alert Today — “A Code Orange Air Quality Alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include children, people suffering from asthma, heart disease or other lung diseases and the elderly. The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors.” [National Weather Service, Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

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