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County Board Signs Off On $3.4 Billion Construction Spending Plan, Complete With Some Deep Cuts

Though it comes with some painful cuts and delays a variety of anticipated projects, a 10-year, $3.4 billion construction spending plan won the County Board’s approval this weekend.

The Board unanimously signed off on a new Capital Improvement Plan, commonly known as the CIP, at its meeting Saturday (July 14), marking an end to its months-long work to wrestle with the county’s budget pressures and lay out a new blueprint for major construction projects through 2028.

Ultimately, Board members made relatively few changes to County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed CIP, but did manage to find an extra $1 million for the Neighborhood Conservation program.

That means the program, designed to fund local infrastructure projects like sidewalk improvements or new landscaping, will have $37 million to work with over the next decade instead of $36 million, even though community leaders still fear the $23 million funding cut will imperil Neighborhood Conservation’s future. The Board also formalized plans to study potential reforms to the program, in order to ensure its long-term survival.

By and large, however, the Board didn’t have much leeway to pump much additional money into the CIP, considering that the county remains constrained by challenging factors like a decrease in commercial tax revenues and an increase in the amount of cash it needs to send to Metro as part of a deal to provide the service with dedicated annual funding.

“It’s kind of a carrots and peas CIP, rather than a steak and asparagus CIP,” said Board member John Vihstadt. “It’s a realistic one for where we are at this point in time, given our economic circumstances and near-term challenges ahead.”

Board generally members struck an optimistic tone about the CIP Saturday, but there is little doubt that they’re already looking ahead anxiously to 2020, when the Board will revise the spending plan once more. By then, the county’s revenue picture could improve, or lawmakers in Richmond could answer Arlington’s pleas and tinker with the Metro funding deal to free up more money for Northern Virginia transportation projects.

“In two years, we’re either going to have a lot more money or we’re going to have a lot less,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

That’s why Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey stressed that he looks at the CIP as “a two-year document and an eight-year math exercise.” He was particularly adamant that parents concerned about school funding shouldn’t view this spending plan with trepidation, even as debate simmers over how the school system builds new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center.

The Board’s CIP includes $614 million to fund the school system’s own construction plan, and the county wasn’t able to find much in the way of additional money to fund some of the more ambitious construction plans the School Board considered. Yet Dorsey is broadly optimistic that this new, limited CIP is far from the end of Career Center discussions.

“When our needs become more clear in the coming years, whether it’s schools or county facilities as well, and we’re able to price them out more, we’ll figure out how to pay for it,” Dorsey said.

There are certainly plenty of other cuts in the CIP the Board hopes to someday revisit. For instance, the plan pushes out the construction of second entrances at the Ballston, Crystal City and East Falls Church Metro stations far into the future, and cuts funding for improvements on some of the county’s arterial roads.

The CIP also contains only limited funding for planning at the Buck and Carlin Springs Road properties, a pair of sites officials have long eyed as potential homes for new schools or county facilities someday.

However, the plan does maintain funding for previously approved capital projects like a new Lubber Run Community Center and a replacement for Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway.

Board members were also eager to reiterate their support for the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. The project isn’t funded as part of this CIP, yet the county’s strained financial picture has nonetheless convinced some in the community to agitate for the pool’s delay or cancellation, in favor of sending its funding elsewhere.

“To try to cancel the contract now is not reevaluating past decisions in light of new information,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “To cancel a contract that breaks ground in a week would be setting a toxic precedent.”

Vihstadt, the lone Board member to vote against a slimmed-down version of the project last fall, reiterated his belief Saturday that the project should be delayed. Yet he also signalled that he was willing to let the matter go, for now.

“We had a vote last December, I was in the minority, I acknowledge it and I accept it,” Vihstadt said. “But I have no doubt if this process were going forward today, or if there were a vote on this particular issue today by the voters of Arlington, it would fail.”

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School Board Signs Off on $631 Million Construction Plan

A new capital spending plan for Arlington’s burgeoning public school system calls for adding more than 4,200 seats through 2027.

The $631 million construction plan includes a new elementary school at the Reed School site and 1,650 new seats for high schoolers split between the Education Center site and the Arlington Career Center.

The Board has spent weeks working to strike a balance between the school system’s increasingly tight finances and its ever-rising enrollment figures, resulting in a new Capital Improvement Plan that left Board members optimistic, yet unsatisfied.

Debate over the plans at Career Center, in particular, dominated the Board’s discussions about the CIP. Parents living near the center, which is located just off Columbia Pike and will someday be home to another 1,050 high school students, raised frequent concerns that APS might not build the same amenities at the site as it has at its three comprehensive high schools.

“With all the pressures on the school system right now, some may say the plan is not perfect today,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “But I believe it’s evolving in the right direction.”

The Board’s tight financial picture meant that it couldn’t quite meet all the parent requests, but members did work to speed up the construction of some features at the site by re-allocating some of the school system’s capital reserve money.

Under the version of the plan approved Thursday, the Career Center will now include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage.

The field and parking garage will be constructed in 2o23 to make those features available to students as more high schoolers move to the site. APS will then simultaneously add an 800-seat expansion and the performing arts section in 2025.

That will address some of the concerns raised by local parents, including some who formed an advocacy group focused on the issue. But they remain wary of how the Board will ultimately decide which students attend the Career Center site high school — members have yet to decide if it will be a “neighborhood” school only for students who live nearby, or a countywide “option” school.

“No child should be zoned to this school described in this proposal,” said Christine Brittle, an organizer with Citizens for Arlington School Equality. “Arlington has never had a choice school of this size.”

Board members stress that such a decision is a long way off, and the county’s financial picture could someday improve and allow APS to add more amenities to the site. There’s broad hope among officials that tax revenues will rebound when it comes time for the next CIP update in 2020.

“When the inputs change, the plan will change,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. “The CIP is a plan, not a promise.”

In the near term, the County Board still needs to sign off on the school system’s CIP as part of its own capital spending process.

County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that the School Board was a bit too ambitious in its ask from the county, though at a work session Tuesday (June 19), he suggested the version of the CIP the Board passed “can work… with a few minor adjustments.”

The County Board is set to pass its CIP by July 14.

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School Board Weighs Draining Reserves to Meet Some Parent Demands at Career Center

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) There may be a way to satisfy parent demands for equitable amenities at a new high school program near Columbia Pike — but it comes at a cost.

The School Board is nearing a vote on a new Capital Improvement Plan, which will guide the next 10 years of school construction, and that means time is running out for officials to tinker with plans for the Arlington Career Center. The site will eventually be home to an additional 1,050 high school students, but the Board has yet to settle on just how it will move forward with building on the property.

Parents in the nearby Arlington Heights neighborhood, in particular, have expressed concerns about how many athletic fields and parking options will be available at the Career Center, particularly when compared to the county’s other high schools.

Under the version of the CIP the Board reviewed at its meeting last Thursday (June 7), the school system would build an underground parking lot at the site with a synthetic field on top — but that will only happen in 2026, two years after space for 800 students is set to open up at the Career Center.

For some parents, such a delay seemed worrisome, particularly as students search for open field space for sports. Accordingly, the Board reviewed a plan at a work session Tuesday (June 12) that would ensure the garage and field get built by 2023, pushing off the 800-seat expansion, and simultaneous construction of a performing arts wing, until 2025.

“The community really needs us to define what wrap-around supports we’re going to provide there to make it an equitable experience for high school students,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.

The plan would also address some of the Board’s funding concerns. Initially, Arlington Public Schools was set to pay for all this construction using bonds, a process that would’ve piled up more debt than school budget minders are usually comfortable with. This revised proposal calls for APS to shell out $24 million from its capital reserve fund to help pay for the Career Center work, cutting down a bit on the school system’s debt load and shifting the reserve money from future elementary and middle school projects.

Board members did express some consternation about drawing down a reserve fund so substantially — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein suggested he had plenty of “heartburn” over the prospect that the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum could jack up construction costs in the future, meaning those reserves could come in handy down the line. Yet most expressed a willingness to embrace the proposal, all the same.

“I see the tradeoffs,” Van Doren said. “But we need to fund as many seats as possible out of our own pocket right now.”

That’s because the County Board has its own money troubles to worry about, and likely won’t be able to help APS fund additional school construction.

Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management service, noted that the school system’s original CIP proposal calls for about $19 million more in spending than the county is currently expecting to send the school system. The revised school proposal, with its reliance on reserve money, would greatly close that gap, Peterson told the Board.

“It is not a given, as we sit here tonight, that what we vote on as our plan will be fully funded,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We really do have to understand that.”

Yet even this newly retooled plan for the Career Center is unlikely to answer all the concerns of parents living nearby, some of whom have formed an advocacy group to fight for additional amenities at the site, particularly should it someday become a school serving only students living nearby. They’re even mulling legal action should the Board not meet their demands.

The Board is set to sign off on a final version of its CIP at its meeting next Thursday (June 21).

Photo via Google Maps

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Parents Planning Protest, Lobbying Effort to Reverse School Board’s Career Center Plans

A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.

Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.

The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.

Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.

“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”

Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.

But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.

Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.

“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.

Haydasz suggested her new group could even pursue legal action against the school system if the Board opts to pursue its current plans at the Career Center. She’s hoping the new group will be able to start accepting donations soon, and will be able to fund all manner of advocacy work.

“Families with the resources to get their students out of this situation will do so, and that will leave behind families who can’t,” Milder said. “It’d be a sad state of affairs.”

That’s why Milder and Haydasz hope to use their new group to convince the county raise taxes next year — a distinct possibility, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned — and use that money to better fund the school system. If the county fails to do so, the parents worry how the neighborhood might change in response.

“I’ve talked to several people already reconsidering adding onto their houses, or are even thinking about putting their homes up for sale already,” Haydasz said. “The uncertainty is too much for them. They wanted to be in the South Arlington community, but they can’t gamble with their kids.”

The group will begin its march from Henry at 5 p.m., and plans to arrive at the Syphax Center for a rally by 5:15 p.m. The Board meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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School Board Looking for County Help on New Construction, But Funding Squeeze Complicates Debate

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington school leaders believe they’ll need plenty of help from the County Board to build enough schools to keep pace with a rapidly growing student body over the next decade — but the county’s own financial pressures will likely limit just how much it can lend a hand.

The School Board and County Board convened for a joint meeting on Tuesday (May 29) as officials pull together their respective capital improvement plans, documents outlining construction spending over the next 10 years, in order to better coordinate the process.

Though neither board has finalized its CIP, the School Board is a bit farther along in the process and is currently eyeing a roughly $631 million plan for approval. But to make that proposal more viable, the Board told their county counterparts that they’ll need help in a few key areas: finding off-site parking and athletic fields for high schoolers, taking on debt to build new schools and securing more land for school buildings.

“Given the constraints we have, we have to be very creative,” said School Board member Nancy Van Doren. “And we need help.”

While County Board members expressed a willingness to work on those issues, they’re facing their own problems. County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $2.7 billion proposal comes with hefty cuts to some transportation improvements and neighborhood infrastructure projects, as the county grapples with increased funding demands from Metro and a shrinking commercial tax base.

In all, Schwartz is envisioning sending $396 million to Arlington Public Schools for construction projects through 2028, but even that amount might not help the school system meet its planned building needs.

“The amount of money we have in there for schools does not match the amount of money the schools are asking for,” Schwartz said during a Wednesday (May 30) town hall on the CIP. “They’re asking for more.”

In part, that’s because the School Board has been working to find a way to add more space for high school students a bit sooner than they originally anticipated, and add more amenities for those students in the process.

Members have spent the last few weeks wrestling with how to implement a “hybrid” plan the Board approved last summer, avoiding the need for a fourth comprehensive high school by adding seats to the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street). They’ve been especially concerned with how to most efficiently add features like athletic fields and performing arts space to the Career Center site, over concerns from parents that building space for high schoolers without those amenities would present an equity issue.

As of now, the Board is nearing agreement on a plan to build out space for a total of 1,050 high schoolers at the Career Center by 2024, complete with a multi-use gym and “black box” theater. APS would add a synthetic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site two years later.

Other, more ambitious options were dubbed “budget busters” by APS staffers, but even this plan is $33 million more expensive than Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s original proposal. It would also force the school system to run afoul of one of its principles of financial management: a pledge to avoid spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on debt service costs.

Accordingly, Board members were quite interested Tuesday in learning how the county might take on some of that debt, or help APS bring down the costs of that new construction, perhaps by helping the school system find off-site parking instead of building new garages or better coordinating the of sharing county fields.

On the former point, County Board member John Vihstadt expressed a willingness to find out how such a debt collaboration would work. Schwartz, however, was not especially optimistic about the prospect, noting it would require some hard choices on the CIP.

“That would mean taking either a project away on the county side or adjusting the timing of a project on the county side,” Schwartz said.

County Board members were much more willing to try working together on sharing fields, and on helping APS find new school sites. Vice Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out that such promises hardly addressed the “elephant in the room.”

“The way to move us away from getting close to the 10 percent [debt limit] is to raise the budget and that means taxes,” Goldstein said. “You folks have that power and we don’t.”

Schwartz has said he’ll likely call for tax increases in next year’s budget, but such discussions are still a year away. First, both boards need to finalize their CIPs — the School Board is set to do so on June 21 while the County Board’s CIP approval is scheduled for July 14.

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School Board Nears Agreement on Plan to Add Some, But Not All, Amenities to Career Center Site

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is nearing consensus on a plan to build 1,050 new seats for high schoolers at the county’s Career Center by 2024, with some, but not all, of the features community members want to see at the site.

At a May 22 work session, the Board expressed broad agreement on changes to Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed 10-year construction plan, known as the capital improvement plan. School leaders have yet to finalize these decisions, but Board members signaled an increased willingness to embrace a plan that costs roughly $64 million more than the one Murphy proposed.

The Board has spent the last few weeks grappling with how, exactly, they’d execute a plan members agreed to last summer calling for Arlington Public Schools to add more capacity yet avoid building a fourth comprehensive high school, by adding seats to the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street).

Murphy originally suggested that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026. That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, but would not include the addition of other amenities parents in the area have been demanding.

The Board was previously considering more ambitious plans to outfit the Career Center site with a full complement of athletic fields and performing arts space. But the increased cost of those options, when combined with how the spending would strain APS’ capacity for taking on debt, seems to be scaring off Board members.

“I wanted to know how we could fast track seats and get all the amenities,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “I think it’s clear that would put us in a situation where it wasn’t affordable.”

The Board is moving closer to embracing a plan that would bump up the construction of 800 additional seats at the Career Center to 2024, but also calls for the addition of a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage to the site.

“It’s very important that we add seats, but also that our seats be high quality,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “This would be what almost all of our high school students want to see in their school day.”

The Career Center would still not include every possible amenity the community might want to see, like a swimming pool or additional athletic fields, a point the Board repeatedly acknowledged. But Kanninen stressed that students at other county high schools have to travel elsewhere to participate in some sports or specialty classes, and she does not feel that building the Career Center school without those amenities would be inequitable for South Arlington residents.

“When we make a promise that we’re providing a quality high school experience, do we make the promise that the opportunity is within a certain distance of their school?” Kanninen said. “Because that’s what we’re hearing from the community, and that’s not the case at our schools… I think we need to have that conversation with the community, and I don’t think we have had it.”

The plan still comes with plenty of its own fiscal challenges, even if it’s not as ambitious as other options the Board considered. Board member Nancy Van Doren suggested that only building a field at the Career Center site and leasing parking elsewhere — instead of building a whole new garage — could help keep costs down.

Other members focused on yet another challenging question for the Board to decide: should the Career Center be a neighborhood school, drawing primarily from the surrounding area, or an option school open to students across the county?

Leaders of the Arlington Heights Civic Association have argued that making the Career Center a neighborhood school without it containing a full set of amenities would represent a fundamental disadvantage for students in the area, and some members tended to agree.

“If we acknowledge we can’t do equitable neighborhood seats there because we can’t provide all the features when the school opens, that pushes it into choice programs,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein “But, of course, that requires more buses.”

Kanninen stressed that the Board does not have to decide on that particular question just yet, and there are other options available.

“I don’t want a site that’s neighborhood without amenities, but I don’t want something that’s all option as well,” O’Grady said.

The Board is set to adopt its final CIP on June 21. Members will also meet with the County Board in the meantime to see if the county can offer additional construction funding, though County Manager Mark Schwartz has warned that such a prospect currently seems unlikely.

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School Board Weighs Options to Beef Up Amenities for Career Center High School Plan

Arlington Public Schools is set to add seats for 850 high schoolers by 2021, but the key question for school leaders now is how, exactly, that construction might proceed.

The School Board is gearing up to award a $2.4 million contract for design work at the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street), where the school system has planned to add space for up to 600 high school students three years from now. Rather than building a fourth comprehensive high school, the Board agreed last summer on a plan to split new seats between the Education Center and the Arlington Career Center just off Columbia Pike (816 S. Walter Reed Drive).

But the Board is also weighing a plan to use the Education Center site for elementary school use instead, while accelerating the construction of new high school seats at the Career Center. Another option would leave high schoolers at the Education Center, but still accelerate the Career Center seats.

Both plans would let APS build additional amenities at the Career Center site, a notable change as parents in the area raise concerns that students there wouldn’t have the same opportunities — a full complement of athletic fields, for instance — as other high schoolers under APS’s current plans.

“We feel like we’re being told we’re asking for too much by simply asking for equality,” Kristi Sawert, president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, told ARLnow.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy is proposing a 10-year construction plan that broadly follows the outline of the deal the Board hammered out last summer — he’s suggesting that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026.

That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, with plans to build a new elementary school all the way out in 2029.

Yet, at a May 15 work session, county staff presented the Board with two alternatives.

One calls for moving the 800-seat expansion at the Career Center up to 2024, while simultaneously constructing an addition for performing arts programs. Then, a few years later, APS would add a synthetic athletic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site.

That option would reduce the school system’s reliance on trailers at the high school level a bit sooner, but force APS to delay plans to add more middle and elementary school seats, APS planner Robert Ruiz told the Board.

The other option APS staff developed calls for moving the Montessori program at Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Education Center instead, then sending 500 high schoolers to Henry by 2021.

By 2024, APS would add 800 seats at the Career Center, which would help replace the Henry seats. That option would also guarantee a full range of amenities at the Career Center by 2026, including two synthetic fields, an underground parking garage, a performing arts addition, a gym and a black box theater. Murphy’s current plan only calls for the gym and theater to be built.

However, it would also be about $10 million more expensive than Murphy’s plan, an unpleasant prospect for Board members after APS narrowly avoided class size increases in its last budget.

In all, Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management services, estimates the plan would involve APS spending at least 10 percent of its budget on construction debt from 2023 to 2027, when the school system has long sought to avoid exceeding that 10 percent figure.

“Taking on more debt has a higher impact on operating budgets, and that means that’s less we can put into enrollment increases or compensation,” Peterson said.

The first alternative, involving accelerating the second phase of Career Center construction, is even more expensive, and could cost $64 million more than Murphy’s proposal. The debt would be a bit more spread out, however, with APS set to exceed that 10 percent figure in just two years.

However, Board members did suggest that the County Board could step in to help fund the Career Center construction, though those negotiations are ongoing.

The two boards are set for a joint meeting on May 29, as each moves closer to approving their new capital improvement plans. The School Board is set to kick off design work at the Education Center with a vote on May 31, though county staff assured Board members that work will take into account whichever alternative officials choose.

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Morning Notes

More Capacity for Yorktown, Career Center — The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected to approve use permit amendments that will allow 300 additional seats at Yorktown High School, thanks to internal modifications, and another 200 seats at the Arlington Tech program within the Arlington Career Center. [InsideNova]

Crystal City BID Considering Expansion — “The Crystal City Business Improvement District is weighing plans to include Pentagon City and Potomac Yard within its borders, creating a single, unified submarket that could also serve as a larger canvass for Amazon.com Inc. as it homes in on potential locations for its second headquarters.” [Washington Business Journal]

Entry-Level Homes Remain Sparse — One of the challenges facing the real estate market in Arlington and Northern Virginia as a whole is a dearth of entry-level homes for sale. Likewise, the inventory of homes for sale in general is low. Said one agent: “In hot areas like Merrifield, Arlington, Reston and Tysons, my buyers are experiencing multiple-offer situations.” [InsideNova]

ACFD Removes Handcuffs from Student’s Wrist — “Interesting call of the day: When you’re playing with handcuffs and the key breaks! [Rescue] 109 cut off a pair of handcuffs that had got stuck on a student’s wrist. No injuries except a broken pair of cuffs.” [Twitter]

GGW Endorses in County Board Race — The urbanist website Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Matt de Ferranti in the Democratic Arlington County Board primary. de Ferranti told the website that he supports “building housing that would be affordable across a variety of incomes and available to younger workers who can build income and own homes in the future.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Career Center Working Group Opens Up Possibility Of Swimming Pool

The possibility of including a swimming pool in Career Center site planning arose at a joint Arlington County Board/Arlington Public Schools work session last week.

Kristi Sawert, who presented Career Center site considerations for programming and amenities during the work session, said that the pool possibility was “one of the more lively discussions” that the working group has had. Sawert listed several reasons for being pro-pool, including what she called a long-standing APS and School Board policy that aquatics education is essential.

“The main reason I hear that we don’t need a pool at the Career Center site is that those students could be bused to Long Bridge Pool when it opens,” said Sawert.

Sawert said that after having consulted with county staff, she believes that busing students isn’t feasible at the high school level because of the lack of free elective periods that students would need for off-campus travel. Busing, Sawert said, would only be a realistic option if students chose to give up core instructional time.

“Those lost hours would really add up,” she said, adding that this was a matter of equality between wealthy students who could afford private swim lessons and those who couldn’t.

High schoolers take at least eight swimming lessons per year in 80-minute blocks. Elementary and middle schoolers are required to take far fewer lessons, at just five swimming instructional hours annually.

Though County Board member John Vihstadt said that he thought a pool is appropriate and necessary, other board members had questions. County Board member Libby Garvey questioned why changes couldn’t be made to students’ schedules to accommodate activities like swimming.

“I appreciate the discussion of swimming and why we need swimming and pools, I totally believe that,” Garvey said. “But listening to the concerns and the difficulties, they all sit around schedules, and the same old block schedules, and the same old constrained day.”

Garvey suggested, as an example, a school schedule of 6 a.m.-11 p.m. for students, which she said would provide flexibility for students to go to Long Bridge to swim. Her intent with the example, she explained, was to highlight the importance of flexibility for students who need to take jobs, go to internships or do other activities that don’t conform well to the traditional school schedules.

“I totally agree with the need for swimming. I’m not sure we have to preserve the same schedule that we’ve had for a hundred years,” Garvey said.

Board member Erik Gutshall questioned how realistic it would be to have another pool in light of county-wide funding concerns.

“I’d want to know that if we’re going to build a pool, and if we agree it’s a great idea, that that pool is going to get absolute, full use and that all of our other pools that we have get full use,” he said. “Money is an object, and it’s going to be highly constrained in every decision [so] every recommendation has to be fully justified.”

Screenshot via Arlington County

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Japanese High School Donates Dogwood Trees to Arlington Career Center

A high school in Tokyo is donating two flowering dogwood trees to the Arlington Career Center.

The gift is intended to memorialize the 103rd anniversary of the United States’ gift to Japan of 60 flowering dogwood trees, according to a Japan-America Society of Washington DC press release.

The dogwood trees, donated by Tokyo’s Engei High School, is scheduled to be presented by the new Japanese ambassador, Shinsuke Sugiyama, on Tuesday, April 3, at 10:30 a.m. They will be planted near the Arlington Career Center’s S. Highland Street border.

Marc Hitzig, the group’s executive director, told ARLnow via email that Arlington was chosen because of a desire to set up a sister city arrangement between Arlington County and Setagaya ward.

According to the society’s press release, there are several similarities between Arlington and Setagaya ward — a Tokyo subdivision similar in arrangement from New York City’s boroughs — including proximity to bodies of water and area demographics.

“We chose the Career Center because we wanted to find a similar high school like Engei High School in Arlington County,” wrote Hitzig, a Bluemont resident, in an email.

“Engei is a horticultural high school in the heart of Tokyo, and since Arlington does not have a horticultural high school we thought the Career Center matched it the best of all of Arlington high schools.”

“Not to mention,” Hitzig added,”Virginia’s state flower and tree is the dogwood.”

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick. Photo (2) via Google Maps.

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Morning Notes

Career Center Redevelopment Could Be Big for Pike — County and school officials are moving forward with a redevelopment of the Arlington Career Center site, which holds the possibility of helping to shape the future of Columbia Pike. “We see this as a huge opportunity to create a crown jewel of Columbia Pike. The only question is the amount of money that might be invested,” said Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Executive Director Cecelia Cassidy. [InsideNova]

N. Va. Real Estate Continues Upward Trajectory — As illustrated by a table showing the past four decades of Northern Virginia real estate sales and average prices, the local real estate market has been on a long-term upward trend. Last year continued the trend, with a 4.1 percent increase in prices and a 6.9 percent increase in total sales. [InsideNova]

Five Guys at DCA Closed for Renovations — The Five Guys burger restaurant in Terminal C of Reagan National Airport is reportedly closed, temporarily, for renovations. [PoPville]

TechShop Evicted in Crystal CityFinancially troubled makerspace chain TechShop has officially been evicted from its location in Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal]

Some Experts Say Prepaid Property Tax Will Be Deductible — Don’t ask for a refund of your prepaid property taxes, say some tax experts. Despite the IRS stating that taxes prepaid to jurisdictions like Arlington County will not be deductible on your taxes this year, before a cap on state and local tax deductions goes into effect, some experts believe that legal challenges to the IRS determination will prevail. [Washington Post]

Applications Accepted for ‘Neighborhood College’ — “Learn how to become a neighborhood advocate and effect change through Arlington County’s free Neighborhood College program, which meets on eight consecutive Thursday evenings, beginning April 12, 2018.” [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

Career Center Site May Expand — The Arlington County Board and School Board have created a joint working group to explore options for adding more high school seats at the Arlington Career Center Site near Columbia Pike. The working group will consider how the site “may be developed in phases to accommodate more high school capacity and new community amenities.” It will also “identify opportunities to expand the Career Center site by leasing space in adjacent buildings and/or through land acquisition.” [Arlington County]

ACPD Warns of Holiday Phone Scams — Arlington County Police are cautioning residents against automatically trusting phone calls claiming to be on behalf of charitable organizations around the holidays. Scammers falsely identifying themselves as charitable solicitors are trying to steal money and personal information. In particular, the police department says, calls claiming to be collecting money on behalf of ACPD are bogus. [Arlington County]

RIP Officer Irving Comer — “On Thursday, November 23, 2017, retired Officer Irving Comer, the first African-American to be sworn in as a police officer for the Arlington County Police Department, passed away at the age of 74.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Planning Begins for New High School Seats at Career Center

A working group will soon begin evaluating the Arlington Career Center and planning for more high school seats there — and even looking into the possibly of a new comprehensive high school on the site.

The Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) is set for a renovation and an addition of 700-800 high school seats in time for 2022. The Arlington School Board voted in June to use it alongside the Education Center to add 1,300 high school seats, in a so-called “hybrid” option.

And according to a draft charge for the Career Center Working Group, it will assess the following as it helps prepare the site for the additional seats:

  1. Estimate total project cost with low, middle and high cost alternatives within the funding limits approved by the School Board
  2. A vision and plan for the site that could include further additions and renovations that might develop in phases into a H.S., and that includes Arlington Tech and existing programs. This will be developed through a community engagement process in concert with the County.
  3. Options for common spaces, including recreational and performance spaces, that might also be shared with the community Draft Charge for CCWG
  4. Parking requirements including structured parking
  5. Physical education programs and field space
  6. Timelines and funding requirements
  7. Assume current programs continue to exist; provides funds for instructional spaces
  8. [Patrick Henry Elementary School] must remain an elementary school for the foreseeable future
  9. APS’s FY2017-26 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) – provides funds for instructional spaces – does not include funds for public spaces available at other high schools

At a meeting tomorrow night (Wednesday) at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street), the county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) and the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) will meet to discuss the plan for the renovated Career Center.

And at that meeting, commission members will look to identify any additional factors that must be weighed, and also ask whether the site should be considered for the proposed fourth comprehensive high school in the county.

When School Board members approved the “hybrid” option, they also directed Superintendent Patrick Murphy to explore “options describing cost, timeline, capacity, location and program for a [fourth] comprehensive high school in the FY 2019-2028 [Capital Improvement Program] process.”

Under a timeline proposed by APS staff, community engagement will begin next month and last through May, after the two commissions review the proposal. In parallel, the working group will do its work, before making a presentation to the School Board in May.

Photos Nos. 1 and 2 via Google Maps.

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School Board Chooses ‘Hybrid’ Option For New High School

Arlington Public Schools will add 1,300 high school seats across the Education Center and the Career Center after the School Board approved the so-called “hybrid option” at its meeting Thursday.

The option, put forward by Superintendent Patrick Murphy last month, would add 500-600 seats to a renovated Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) by 2022, then add another 700-800 at the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive), which would get a renovation and an addition. The County Board denied a request to designate the Education Center as a historic district last month.

Murphy’s proposal had not been among the original short list of three finalists for the new high school site, but Board members said it would balance the need for more seats with limited building space, and make use of what already exists.

“We cannot allow this Ed Center site to lie fallow,” said Board member Reid Goldstein. “We go to the County Board every year and we tell them we need more: we need more money; we need more land. I’m a taxpayer too. We cannot have a site that could hold students going unused.”

By December, Murphy must also provide a list of recommendations for the Education Center, including its cost, any boundary changes needed and educational programming. He must make similar recommendations for the Career Center no later than May 2018.

In addition to their vote in favor of the plan, Board members directed Murphy to include options for a fourth comprehensive high school, including programming, cost and location, in APS’ 2019-2028 capital budget. Arlington currently has three comprehensive high schools: Washington-Lee, Wakefield and Yorktown.

“It’s not a blank slate,” said Board chair Nancy Van Doren. “We have eight points we want answers to, we have a finite amount of money and we have a vision that says we’re going to need to potentially add onto those and make them into something even greater going forward. So we want to leave our options open, and one thing I think we’ve learned to do is not create buildings that aren’t flexible.”

The Board voted 4-1 in favor of the plan, with James Lander the lone dissenting vote. He said the plan was not the best use of the space at the Career Center, had safety concerns around traffic on S. Walter Reed Drive and worries about locating high school students close to Patrick Henry Elementary School.

“If you know someone with 40 acres in Arlington who is willing to sell to the school system, I would be happy to negotiate that,” Lander said. “Until then, we have to utilize the space effectively that we have now, and we have to think about what our needs could be potentially down the road. I think this site could be better used than just 600 seats.”

The perceived lack of consultation with nearby residents on the new option came in for some criticism during public testimony. Maria “Pete” Durgan, president of the Penrose Neighborhood Association, urged the Board to delay their vote to explore the hybrid model further.

“We feel disappointed in the way the solution came about because we don’t feel like we were presented with the various scenarios and had an opportunity on what would affect us greatly,” she said.

Goldstein raised similar concerns with the way the fourth option came forward, and challenged his colleagues to think about how they continue engaging with the community even as new ideas come forward late in the game.

“How do we do idea changes or option changes in a project like this when there isn’t enough time to extend the community engagement process?” he asked.

Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen said APS intends to get “right back out there” in the fall to begin discussing the new schools, and may look at convening something similar to the South Arlington Working Group that helped site a new elementary school.

“After tonight, we’re proceeding with two projects, and I’m excited about both of them, the Ed Center project, the Career Center site, but it’s no longer a hybrid,” Kanninen said. “These are two projects, just like we have several other projects on the books.”

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Parents Start Petition in Favor of High School on Kenmore Campus

A proposal to build a high school next to Kenmore Middle School appears to have garnered some support among local parents.

The School Board recently whittled down a list of nine possible sites for the county’s new public high school to three. Under the Kenmore plan the current middle school would remain on the 33 acre campus, and adjacent property would be used to build a new high school.

A petition in support of the Kenmore plan — and against expanding Washington-Lee High School — has garnered more than 100 signatures.

“This would be a smaller high school initially but would have the potential to become a 4th comprehensive high school if a new middle school building can be built elsewhere in the near future,” the petition says. “School start times could be staggered, and officials have recognized the need to improve access to the campus to relieve traffic.”

(Currently, the county has three comprehensive high schools: Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield.)

Of the other two options remaining, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said a ninth-grade academy would be developed on the site of the Education Center next to Washington-Lee, with the International Baccalaureate program expanded and a World Languages site created.

That, says petition supporters, would make W-L far too large of a school.

“Students would share common spaces and fields with students already at W-L,” says the petition. “This would place 3,500 to 4,000 high school students in one location.”

The third option is to build at the Arlington Career Center, expanding Arlington Tech and allowing for the repurposing of the Education Center. Supporters of the Kenmore option say the plan to build at the Career Center would force that to be a choice program, something that has come in for criticism online given Arlington Public Schools’ enrollment growth.

“Choice schools were great when the schools were under-enrolled and kids had a decent chance of getting into them,” wrote one commenter on a message board for local moms. “Now getting into a choice school is like a Golden Ticket while everyone else is crammed into high schools that are getting too big and you don’t know the people in your class. We can’t afford to spend $100 million on choice schools like HB [Woodlawn] while the rest of the peasants make do in trailers smuched [sic] together at other high schools.”

“[The] Kenmore option is the only option that establishes a solid pathway to a 4th comprehensive high school, which the APS system desperately needs,” the petition says.

Earlier this week, the Yorktown PTA hosted a town hall with Board members Barbara Kanninen and Reid Goldstein. Another School Board work session is scheduled for May 15 at the Career Center, with the Board set to discuss the options and adopt one in June.

Photo via Google Maps

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