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A 2023 rendering of the Arlington Career Center

Arlington’s state legislators are calling on school officials to provide more labor protections for workers building the multimillion-dollar Arlington Career Center.

Sens. Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola, along with Delegates Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez and Adele McClure, sent a letter to the Arlington School Board last month requesting a prevailing wage requirement. This would require workers to receive wages comparable to market rates when constructing the roughly $180 million project at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive.

“Studies over many years show that prevailing wage requirements have a negligible impact on project costs, and our experience in the Commonwealth has borne that out,” the legislators, who are all Democrats, wrote. “While costs do not rise, safety and equity do improve.”

Since 2021, Arlington County has mandated that county construction projects of over $250,000 pay workers wages comparable to market rates. It was among the first counties in Virginia to adopt such a resolution.

But that requirement doesn’t extend to Arlington Public Schools projects.

“APS cannot include a prevailing wage requirement because we don’t have a School Board resolution authorizing us to do so,” school system spokesperson Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.

Several local labor unions sent a letter to the School Board last month demanding that officials rescind and revise the Career Center’s current request for proposals.

“It is disturbing that the School Board decided to take a low-bid, low-road approach to building the Career Center, which would not only sacrifice quality, safety, and equity, but would inevitably invite in the underground economy that is prevalent in our region,” wrote representatives from the Northern Virginia Labor Federation, the Arlington Education Association and other labor groups.

Virginia Diamond, president of the NoVa Labor Federation, told ARLnow that she hoped the new building — which will offer vocational education for many different trades, among other programs — would be “a showcase” of local workers’ abilities. She said she was “surprised” to find out the School Board had not approved stronger labor protections.

Diamond now fears that the project will simply go to the lowest bidder which, she says, may cut corners in ways that harm workers.

“It’s just a very poor judgment on the part of the School Board, to think that they’re somehow squeezing more money out of the workforce,” Diamond said.

The Board has not yet approved a contractor for the Career Center, and current bidding process does not close until next Thursday, April 11. Adopting a prevailing wage resolution would likely cause delays in this and other construction projects, Bellavia said, but he did not say how extensive they would be.

The state legislators argued that prevailing wages help prevent exploitative practices such as wage theft, especially among immigrant communities.

“The new Career Center can be a source of pride to our community, but only if it is done right, with an equity lens and opportunities for apprenticeships and good jobs for our residents,” they wrote.

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One meeting down and two more to go before recommendations could emerge for a new name to adorn the forthcoming Arlington Career Center building.

Arlington Public Schools last month created a naming committee to discuss potential names for the new building, which will house the Arlington Career Center and the handful of programs within it, including Arlington Tech. As the committee has just starting meeting, no contenders have yet emerged for the building on S. Walter Reed Drive, slated for completion in the fall of 2026.

“It’s been a really great learning experience because we found out that there are clear criteria for how you name a new building in Arlington,” such as inclusive discussions with the community and a pick that reflects its values and the education happening inside, says Margaret Chung, the principal of the Arlington Career Center (ACC).

“Whether you’re within or without from outside, when you hear that name it’s like ‘Ah yeah, I get it, that’s who you are,” she continued.

Monica Caldera, the ACC diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator, says that starting this conversation has helped administrators “to see many perspectives about changing the name and what that means to people.”

The building name matters to ACC staff, who say the Career Center inside is set apart from Arlington’s comprehensive high schools by its name and function. While it offers more career-readiness programming than a typical high school, it is not a “vocational” school, per se.

“I think the term vocational gets into people’s minds of, ‘Oh ok, so you’re only going to go into a shop and you’re going to learn that skill and then you’re going to go out and do that skill, ” said Michelle Van Lare, the program coordinator for Arlington Tech. “And it’s really limiting to a high school student to be told that’s the track that you’re on.”

Instead, she says, ACC offers hands-on programs to students in grades 9-12 that teach skills necessary for their academic or professional goals.

“You can be in auto mechanics and in physics at the same time and learning the same material, but in one you’re actually doing it and in the other one, you’re sitting in the classroom writing about it,” said Van Lare. “That’s how we learn.”

In addition to its core curriculum, Arlington Public Schools offers Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses students either take at the Career Center or at their local high school. About half of all students in grades 9-12, or 4,000, take CTE courses, with 1,000 students either enrolled at the Career Center or traveling to and from there for a course, Career, Technical and Adult Education Director Kris Martini told the School Board last month. ACC students can also take dual-enrollment classes and graduate with an associate’s degree.

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Montessori Public School of Arlington on opening day in 2019 (file photo)

(Updated at 12 p.m.) An elementary school has become the next flashpoint in discussions of how Arlington Public Schools should use its existing buildings.

Last year, the Nottingham Elementary School community was roiled by a potential plan to close the school and turn the building into a “swing space” to accommodate students whose home schools were under renovation.

Directed to explore this option by School Board members, APS officials ultimately walked back the proposal: Middle schools needed the most attention and their student populations would not fit at Nottingham. Plus, parent opposition was fierce.

The focus has now shifted to the Montessori Public School of Arlington (MPSA) and plans to relocate it to the current Arlington Career Center site once the new building is finished next door.

Once located within Drew Model School, MPSA moved into the former Patrick Henry Elementary space in 2019 as that school community moved into a new neighborhood school, Fleet Elementary. The Patrick Henry building, meanwhile, is now showing its age at 50 years old.

“We have issues around physical space and with the HVAC system. We have had classrooms that are uninhabitable at various parts of the year but we don’t have anywhere else to go,” Jamey Borell, president of the PTA, tells ARLnow. “They are trying to make do with space heaters and fans… Our Montessori community is very good at making do.”

Of the 20-odd classrooms, 14 do not meet current educational specifications, according to School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres, describing her recent visit to the school and discussing several issues, including corroding water heaters and a leaking roof.

“This building is falling apart at the seams. And if you walk through that building, it is very clear that… it was supposed to be temporary, and it should be temporary,” she said in a December School Board meeting.

Fellow parent Michael Bruno tells ARLnow the school community moved into Patrick Henry with this understanding, believing the MPSA would move into the legacy Arlington Career Center building after the new building is complete. Now, however, some attitudes have shifted.

Leaders from the County Council of PTAs and the Joint-Facility Advisory Committee, as well as two current and former School Board members, say this may not be the most financially sound course and more options should be explored. MPSA parents say APS should stick to its promise to move MPSA to the Career Center site and keep the program in South Arlington.

The diverging viewpoints emerged during public comments and a School Board discussion in December. In a rare split vote, members voted 3-2 to direct APS staff to explore and present low-, medium- and high-cost scenarios, not to exceed $45 million, for relocating MPSA into the Career Center building.

This means that staff will not explore other options off-campus as they develop the forthcoming 2025-34 Capital Improvement Plan, to be presented in May 2024. Building life span and use is top of mind for the School Board, which also directed Supt. Francisco Durán to include deep dive studies into how existing facilities should be renovated.

Current member Mary Kadera and now-former member Reid Goldstein voted against this direction.

“I really worry that our planning will be incomplete and short-sighted,” she said of the decision not to consider other locations for MPSA.

APS has to study additional scenarios, including how it could use some 1,000 open elementary seats around Arlington, if is going to be careful stewards of limited capital funds, she said. Current estimates put the cost of relocating MPSA to the Career Center at $39-45 million.

“[More study] might very well demonstrate that the best possible option is to house MPSA in the legacy building. I’m not arguing against that scenario,” Kadera said. “I am simply arguing that we owe it to the community to recognize our changing needs and circumstances and study the alternative.”

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Arlington Public Schools is poised to tie planned S. Walter Reed Drive upgrades into its $180 million Arlington Career Center project.

This past Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved a memorandum of agreement permitting APS to appoint the same contractor for the Career Center’s construction to handle the road improvements — part of the county’s Neighborhood Complete Streets program — from 5th Street S. to Columbia Pike.

Next, the agreement will head to the Arlington School Board for approval in January.

The upgrades to S. Walter Reed Drive will include new trees, protected bike lanes, a traffic light at the 9th Street S. intersection and improved bus stops. The community broadly supported these enhancements following a series of public feedback sessions held from fall 2020 to spring 2021, per a county staff report.

Currently, construction of the five-story Career Center at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive, slated to start next spring, is set to overlap with the road work. County and school officials agreed to merge the two projects to avoid traffic congestion and construction snags.

“So, essentially, when you have two contractors trying to work in the same place at the same time, somebody gets delayed,” APS Director of Design and Construction Jeffrey Chambers told School Board members during their meeting last Thursday.

Under the plan, the county will foot the bill for the road work, estimated at $7 million, and reimburse APS for any extra administrative costs, the report said.

APS is not required to contribute financially to the road improvements. Still, it must inform the county of any additional expenses due to construction delays. Should the road work exceed its budget, APS must obtain county approval before proceeding.

The bulk of the road work is expected to be completed within the first year of construction, with the final paving and overlay scheduled just before the Career Center opens in August 2026, Chambers said last week.

The funding for the S. Walter Reed Drive road improvements has already been earmarked in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

APS is still in the process of securing a contractor for the Career Center, which will host up to 1,619 students and include a four-story parking garage.

Officials plan to present the combined bids for the Career Center construction and road improvements to the County Board in early 2024. The Board will then approve the fund transfer and any additional construction financing.

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On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved plans to redevelop the Arlington Career Center on Columbia Pike.

Arlington Public Schools will be building a new 5-story Career Center building at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive to house students in vocational courses, such as veterinary sciences. Also set to be built: a standalone 4-story parking garage.

Plans to update the building have gone through many iterations over the years and were most recently reprised last February in a process fraught with concerns.

In the end, four of the five Board members voted in favor of the $180 million project, with Takis Karantonis dissenting. The new facility will have capacity for up to 1,619 students.

The vote came after they heard, and in some cases echoed, concerns from representatives of civic associations and citizen commissions, as well as neighbors. Before Saturday, the Planning Commission was also divided, voting 5-4 two weeks ago with the chair abstaining after a weighty pause.

Board members who greenlit the project justified their decision using variations on the saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

“The cost of the pursuit of a delay and the pursuit of a more perfect project are so high and the project brought before us — though not perfect — when delivered in its full vision… is going to be indeed a spectacular addition to an area that I think of as my broader neighborhood,” Board member Katie Cristol said. “And, more importantly, a home befitting of the incredible education happening within it.”

Some of the neighbors who spoke say they support the idea of the project and say they are not seeking perfection at all.

“The current APS plans, while ambitious, cut corners in ways that are unacceptable to the community and contrary to the our shared vision of a safe and equitable Arlington,” a coalition of leaders of civic associations along Columbia Pike said in a letter.

Top concerns from neighbors included the future of open space on the site and the environmental commitments of the proposed building. There were calls for sidewalks, undergrounded utilities and fencing that match those at other schools in Arlington, as well as a more forward-thinking solution to parking than a stand-alone, above-ground garage.

Former Arlington County Planning Commissioner Stephen Hughes said in a letter to the Board that the county should have deferred approving the use permit until APS addressed these issues.

“The Career Center site deserves to be the ‘Jewel of the Pike’; however, any claim of that today is disingenuous at best,” he wrote. “APS has failed for over a decade to address facility planning in a comprehensive way and besides the inclusion of the existing facilities on the [General Land Use Plan], we have no planning guidance to rely on with APS facilities.”

APS and the School Board intend to retrofit the current Career Center for the Montessori program now housed in the former Patrick Henry Elementary School. This building, in turn, would be torn down and turned into a green space.

Some people wanted these commitments included in the use permit that went before the County Board on Saturday. Otherwise, they say, no legal document binds APS to executing this vision and — absent funding and a plan — the Pike will lose a baseball diamond, basketball court and open green space with no commitments to recover them.

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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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(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) The Arlington County Board today called for action to stem the tide of gun violence, while groups of students around the county held walkouts in response to the elementary school shooting in Texas.

The Board condemned gun violence and urged state legislators to tighten gun control in a statement issued this afternoon.

Board members called on state lawmakers to close the gift exemption to background checks and allow local licensing and registration requirements for buying and selling guns, among other measures.

“There is a great deal more to be done to address gun violence, and we call on the Virginia General Assembly and the Governor to make protecting all Virginians a priority and to remove the restrictions that bar the Commonwealth’s localities from implementing the gun safety actions that make sense for our communities,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, students at Washington-Liberty High School, Arlington Career Center, Dorothy Hamm Middle School and Williamsburg Middle School participated in walkouts as part of a national effort led by Students Demand Action.

Around 20 students at Washington-Liberty participated in the demonstration, walking to Quincy Park, where students took turns giving short speeches.

One of the students participating said she had to ask her friends about their safety on three different occasions in a year due to issues related to gun violence.

“We’re so desensitized to our own deaths in this society,” she said, “People are desensitized to them dying, that’s terrible because this has happened so much.”

Students also talked about a shooting threat their high school received in October, which led to the school shutting down for the day. The threat turned out to be false.

“This nationwide walkout is mainly to protest the fact that we go to school, especially with bomb threats and shooting threats, and have to sit there, subconsciously knowing that ‘hey, we may be victim one day,'” Megan, a student, said.

Megan told ARLnow that she heard about the walkout from an email the school principal sent in the morning acknowledging the nationwide walkout, as well as hearing about the effort. Another participant, Grace, learned of the walkout from her friends and her mother. Both students said they had participated in several walkouts against school gun violence in the past.

“I went to this walkout because I think people should protest for things they believe in, and this is something I believe in,” Grace said.

Students at the Career Center walkout held up signs that read “Enough is Enough” and “Thoughts & Prayers are NOT Enough,” according to photos tweeted by CBS News correspondent Natalie Brand.

“We’re out here not because we want to skip class but because we fear for our lives going to school, because anyone can go out and buy an assault rifle and shoot up a school,” one of the students said in a speech, according to a video tweeted by Brand.

Arlington police stepped up patrols around schools in the wake of the mass shooting. Arlington Public Schools, in an email sent to families, said support services are available for students and staff trying to grapple with the horrific crime.

The County Board’s full statement is below.

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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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(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) Plans are taking shape to rebuild the Arlington Career Center with improved amenities and, potentially, an additional 450 seats.

And it seems Arlington Public Schools is proposing a novel use for those seats: a middle school component to the Arlington Tech project-based learning program.

The idea appeared to elicit surprise from some Arlington School Board members, who requested to see this idea fleshed out more before they voted on it. The board is set to pick between two concepts for the Career Center project, only one of which proposes the additional seats, during its meeting on April 28.

Board Vice-Chair Reid Goldstein said using the seats for a middle school component “[puts] the cart before the horse.”

“There’s been no decision that a middle school component is decided and going to take place or appropriate,” he said.

School Board member Mary Kadera said she needed to see “a robust evaluation” of the program before deciding to create a middle school program.

“Before we talk about expanding a program, I want to make sure the program is actually delivering on what it promises to offer,” she said.

Although the idea of a middle school appears new, plans to add 450 seats to the Career Center date back to the fall, when the School Board directed APS staff to flesh out two designs: a “base” plan with the additional seats and an “alternative” plan without them.

The only other difference between the plans is the cost: the added seats raise project costs from $158.2 million to $174.6 million. Both those estimates are $4 to $5 million higher than initial projections back in October, due to higher construction costs.

Board Chair Barbara Kanninen reminded the School Board members that the designs reflect the Board’s direction to come up with plans that meet, or nearly meet, its requirements to spend about $170 million and complete the project by 2027.

“I think it’s important for us, and the community, to recognize what’s been approved by the board and the question on the table,” she said. “It’s generally good practice for us to honor what’s been voted on in the past — otherwise, we end up with chaotic governance.”

Goldstein said he does not intend to further delay the project but added that the designs and cost estimates do not totally meet Board parameters.

“I need more insight into the future vision to know this is the right step,” he said.

Should the School Board accept one of the two designs during its meeting on April 28, the long-awaited project would still require the approval of voters via a School Bond referendum this November.

If that is approved, demolition could begin in the summer of 2023 and construction could start that December. The new building would be completed in 2025 and the entire project would be completed in April 2027.

Phases of development for the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington County)

Career Center renovations have progressed in fits and starts over the last decade. Most recently, a two-year planning effort to add 800 seats to the building ground to a halt in 2020 because estimates came in $84 million over budget.

Instead, APS focused on smaller-scale projects: renovations to the Columbia Pike Branch Library and expanding the Arlington Tech high school program.

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When “Rocket” — the last goat at the Arlington Career Center — died in August, the large animal component of the school’s Animal Sciences program effectively died with it.

Historically, the school has kept a menagerie of animals for students interested in pursuing careers in animal care and veterinary science, including a miniature horse, goats, cats, dogs, turtles and birds. Today, the program serves about 120 students.

Since the deaths of “Rocket” in 2021 and the miniature horse “Snickers” in 2020, however, Arlington Public Schools administrators have denied requests to adopt new large animals.

APS says this is because it is updating the Animal Science program as part of the planned renovations to the Career Center. Farm animals will no longer figure into the program because they are not required to teach the four courses that will be offered: Small Animal Care I and II and Veterinary Science I and II.

“We are in the planning process to modernize the Small Animal Science and Veterinary Science lab to ensure the lab mirrors local industry facilities,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement. “Students will continue to learn about and care for small animals in a modern lab that reflects industry-based standards and practices.”

The new space will feature improved work areas for students and staff and better housing, grooming stations and exam areas for animals, he said.

But students are petitioning APS and pleading with the School Board to keep large animals. A petition that started last year has regained steam and, as of this morning, has just shy of 2,600 signatures.

“The lack of farm animals would take away the experience that students would need to prepare them for going into college,” writes Washington-Liberty High School student Ellen Boling in the petition. “It could also lower the interest of incoming students in the course, which would result in fewer people to care for the animals.”

W-L senior Sean Bender-Prouty told the School Board in the fall that farm animals are critical for college readiness. He said the future Career Center redevelopment plans are hurting the students currently in the program.

“The potential loss of that space in the future is being used to deny students access to large animals now,” he said during the Oct. 14 meeting. “If you decide to redevelop the site and take away our green space, students may be permanently denied the opportunity to gain necessary experience with large animals.”

Bender-Prouty’s prediction has been a few years in the making. Officials have mulled ending the large animal component of the program since 2019, when it moved eight trailers onto the animals’ grazing space to accommodate an influx of students. This prompted APS to “reimagine that program for a more urban setting,” Bellavia said at the time.

The decision mystifies Animal Science instructor Scott Lockhart, who says large animals gain students entry to a job sector that is booming, given the shortage of large animal vets in the U.S.

“The number of jobs and pathways is being reduced tremendously,” Lockhart tells ARLnow. “We’ve always taken a wide view of animal sciences and now we’re reducing that to small animal care. It does have an impact on students and what we’re trying to prepare them for.”

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The Arlington Career Center (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools is ramping up planning work to build a new school and parking garage at the Arlington Career Center site.

A group tasked with developing the project from 2018-2020 has reconvened and will be working quickly to flesh out the project before the School Board reviews designs this spring.

Planning documents indicate APS envisions building a new, 5-story Career Center along S. Walter Reed Drive that would provide a modern space suited to the 21st-century career and technical skills taught inside.

APS is working on two plans: a “base” plan for a $170.5 million, 260,000-square-foot building for 1,795 students, and an “alternative” plan for a $153 million, 225,000-square-foot building for 1,345 students that is designed to accommodate a future expansion.

Building next to the current ACC building (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) will minimize disruptions and lower costs, according to APS administration.

“One of the things we learned through the last process is that building around an existing high school while the students are in there is cost-prohibitive,” said Lisa Stengle, the APS executive director of planning and evaluation, in a January planning meeting.

ACC houses college and career-readiness programs as well as programs that help recent immigrant students pursue their high school diploma and provide job training for special education students and support for teen parents.

In 2018, APS launched an expansion project to add up to 800 seats to the Career Center, and designs were being finalized in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic hit. The School Board removed the project from its 2021 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) because it was $84 million, and then $34 million, over budget.

At the time, the board told the school system to focus on smaller renovations to meet rising enrollment. Since then, completed renovations to the Columbia Pike Branch Library created more space for students, and APS is spending around $31 million to add more seats to the current ACC building over the next three years.

But now APS is looking to build once more. The School Board directed Superintendent Francisco Durán in October to add the project to the 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan, set for approval in June. If approved, the project will go to voters in November as a School Bond referendum.

APS expects to start construction in December 2023 and finish the building in December 2025 and the entire project in 2027.

The graphic below shows how the site will change through the project. (The current ACC building is in light gray, the Columbia Pike library is in dark gray and the above-ground parking garage is in tan.)

Preliminary site plan for the Arlington Career Center building (via APS)

Part of the current ACC building (indicated with red dashes) will be demolished to accommodate the above-ground, 400-space parking structure at S. Highland Street and 9th Street S.

The Columbia Pike Branch Library will remain where it is, as will the rest of the ACC building, which APS intends to use as a flexible space. Separately, APS is figuring out what to do with the building long term.

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