In addition to approving a new county budget Tuesday night, the Arlington County Board also approved a $20,000 pay raise for each of its members.
Board Chair Katie Cristol said she’s uncomfortable voting on her own salary, but nonetheless in the approved budget her salary as this year’s Chair will increase from $63,413 to $83,413.
“I think what ultimately has persuaded me to support this idea is sort of depersonalizing it and the recognition that it’s actually not about my salary, it’s about a Board member’s salary,” she said.
Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey pointed out that the increases make the positions more competitive. Higher salaries — the salary for a Board member is increasing from $57,648 to $77,648 — will make members less dependent on high-earning spouses or other sources of supplemental income like consulting jobs.
“I’ve talked to far too many people who, I think, would make great County Board members and they tell me, ‘I simply can’t afford to do it,'” Garvey said. “So I’m hoping this is going to be a step in the right direction to make it, I think, actually more democratic, better representation.”
The set salaries remain below the cap set by the Board in 2019 — $95,734 for the Chair and $89,851 for members.
The Board can only raise the salary cap in the year that two board members are up for reelection, which will next happen in 2023, when Cristol and Christian Dorsey are up for reelection.
After a community survey a few years ago on the compensation of Board members, the Board came to the general consensus that it would be appropriate for members to earn a salary equivalent to the area median income for a one-member household, Cristol said. The pay raise just approved will not reach that level, but will get closer to it.
“I believe that was the benchmark, the idea there being that Board members ought to make not more than the average Arlingtonian, but not less either,” she said. “So this would get us I think about half of the way there. I believe this roughly shakes out to about a Board member making 80% of the area median income for a household of one.”
De Ferranti said that a seat on the Board, while originally intended as a part-time position, is effectively a full-time job and ought to be paid as such.
“My view is that for a locality that is approaching 240,000 people, the job of being a Board member is a full-time job,” he said. “There’s been some analysis in the past as to the number of hours, sometimes it’s 50 or 60 hours per week and sometimes it’s 35 but I think this is a full-time job.”
Member Takis Karantonis said he’s struggled with juggling the amount of work that comes with the County Board and his other work. He has had to excuse himself from certain votes, which can be uncomfortable, he said.
“This is really not helpful. It is not helpful for the Board as a whole, it is not helpful for the way this body works, it is not helpful for anybody,” he said.
Dorsey said he didn’t want any part of this issue when it came up while he was chair in 2019 — he was in the midst of personal financial troubles that would later lead to a bankruptcy filing and accusations of unethical behavior related to political donations. He said he supports the raise now because public servants should be valued for their work.
Dorsey thanked Garvey for “pressing the cause.”
“When we do the public’s business, we cannot do that effectively without really good public servants and, you know, for far too long, public servants compared to their private sector counterparts make sacrifices that often go underappreciated,” he said.
The pay raise will take effect with the county’s new Fiscal Year 2023 budget on July 1.
George Mason University has ceremonially broke ground on the quarter of a billion dollar expansion of its Arlington campus.
At an event held yesterday (Wednesday), ceremonial shovels picked up ceremonial dirt to mark the beginning of construction of Fuse at Mason Square, a new $235 million building in Virginia Square that will house the university’s new School of Computing.
In fact, work had actually already begun a few months earlier on the 345,000 square foot facility. It’s the main piece of the quarter-billion-dollar expansion of the Arlington campus, which was recently renamed “Mason Square.”
The groundbreaking, which was one of this week’s events celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary, was marked by a litany of speeches, food, and shoveling of dirt.
In attendance were a number of Arlington officials including Board Chair Katie Cristol, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen, Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, and Arlington NAACP President Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr.
Cristol spoke of her pride that this state-of-the-art facility will have a home in Arlington.
“The vision of Fuse [reminds] me of a term I learned in a laboratory in St. Louis — serendipitous collisions. What an evocative image of the kind of partnerships and encounters that are going to happen here at Fuse at Mason Square,” she said. “Between cutting edge facilities, labs with futuristic devices, and human talent of educators and entrepreneurs as well as this rising generation of creators. The serendipitous collisions that occur on this campus are going to shape our community in ways that we can only imagine today.”
Back in the early 1970s, the late Arlington developer John “Til” Hazel acquired the Virginia Square property that included the former Kann’s Department Store in order to house for GMU’s new law school. The property eventually became a larger graduate school campus, and the former Kann’s building is being replaced with the new computing school.
Hazel died last month at the age of 91. His son James revealed at the ceremony that his dad grew up “not a few blocks away, not down the street. It was right there at [N.] Kenmore [Street] and Wilson Blvd.”
Hazel shared other memories of spending time in this neighborhood before GMU moved in.
“If my mom wanted to take us to get new clothes for school, we came to our grandparents. We parked the car, we came over to Kann’s, got the clothes, and saw the monkey display,” he said, to some laughter. “But best of all, we got pizza from Mario’s Pizza.”
The ceremony was also supposed to include an announcement of a “landmark tenant” at the new building, but that didn’t happen, with GMU officials telling ARLnow that the announcement was delayed.
The $235 million building will house faculty from the Institute for Digital InnovAtion as well as the university’s new School of Computing. Also being planned is an atrium, a 750-seat theater, a public plaza, and a below-grade parking garage.
About 60% of the available space will be occupied by the university, with the remaining 40% aiming to be leased out to tenants and private companies.
Fuse at Mason Square is expected to be completed in the summer of 2025.
The Arlington County Board has issued a resolution condemning Russia’s “unprovoked attack” on Arlington’s sister city Ivano-Frankivsk in southwestern Ukraine.
At last night’s special County Board meeting, Chair Katie Cristol announced a resolution declaring the county’s solidarity and support for the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Last week, a missile hit the city’s airport amid Russia’s ongoing, bloody invasion of Ukraine.
“The Arlington County Board… stands in support and solidarity with the people of Ivano-Frankivsk and all of Ukraine in their defense of sovereignty and democracy,” reads the resolution, in part.
The resolution also defends Ukraine’s right to be independent and self-governing. It condemns the invasion and attacks on Ivano-Frankivsk, which has also made international headlines during the conflict due to the hundreds of Indian college students that are stranded there.
Ivano-Frankivsk is one of five Arlington sister cities. The designation became official in 2011 when, in March of that year, then-Board chair Chris Zimmerman was joined by the city’s mayor for a signing ceremony in Crystal City.
A number of Board members have visited the city of about 240,000 people, Cristol noted in her remarks.
The relationship also extended to first responders with Ivano-Frankivsk firefighters having become “friends and students” of their Arlington counterparts. There was also a student exchange program with Swanson Middle School.
“It has been a sister city in every sense of the word,” Cristol said.
In recent days, both D.C. and Alexandria have lit up government buildings and monuments in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. While Arlington has no current plans to do that, a county spokesperson tells ARLnow, the resolution shows the connection the county has with the eastern European country.
“We are keeping our sister city and all of the people of Ukraine in our thoughts and hearts at this time,” Cristol said. “And I know many members of our community are joining us in doing so.”
Full resolution is below.
SUPPORTING ARLINGTON COUNTY’S SISTER CITY IVANO-FRANKIVSK DURING THE RUSSIAN MILITARY INVASION OF AND ATTACK ON UKRAINE
Whereas, on March 4, 2011, the Arlington County Board voted to establish a partnership with the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, the purpose of which is to foster friendship and promote mutual tolerance and understanding by establishing ties between the citizens and institutions of the two communities.
Whereas, our two communities through its Sister City partnership have welcomed opportunities to participate in mutual exchanges of people, culture, and ideas, including a student exchange program with Swanson Middle School.
Whereas, the Arlington County Board has welcomed several exchanges to share information and expertise with public safety responders in our Sister City and the Board has participated in formal meetings with government officials, while the Government of Ivano-Frankivsk has similarly participated and welcomed delegations of our own Government and staff.
Whereas, in the spirit of friendship, understanding, and mutual respect of our cultures and histories, we believe it is important to speak out against unjust actions and demonstrate our support for our friends and partners.
Whereas, we learned on February 24, 2022, a Russian missile struck the airport in Ivano-Frankivsk, Arlington’s sister city in Ukraine, only hours after leaders of the Russian Federation launched an invasion into the sovereign country.
Resolved, that the Arlington County Board –
Condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and unprovoked attack on our Sister City, Ivano-Frankivsk.
Reaffirms our community’s unwavering belief in the principles of international law and in the right of sovereign nations like Ukraine to be respected and safe within their established borders, independent and self-governing, and free to follow their own values and build their own future.
Stands in support and solidarity with the people of Ivano-Frankivsk and all of Ukraine in their defense of sovereignty and democracy.
County Board Wants Camp Revamp — From County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “More from the Board on expectations for reforming summer camp registration, below. Importantly for this year: 6,000 spots are still open for this summer, and families who need DPR camp can continue to register online or w/ customer service team, [email protected].” [Twitter]
Jobs in Arlington Increase Slightly — “Year-over-year employment within Arlington County improved in the third quarter of 2021, according to new federal data, but lagged the overall national rebound. There were a total of 172,600 jobs recorded in Arlington for September 2021 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and reported Feb. 23. That’s up 0.4 percent from a year before.” [Sun Gazette]
New ACPD K9 Graduates — From the Arlington County Police Department: “Join us in congratulating Cpl. Doescher & K9 Wilson on their graduation from basic patrol K9 school, which includes training on conducting building and area searches, advanced obedience and tracking!” [Twitter]
Yorktown Hockey Is Undefeated — “With blowout victories in their final two matches, the Yorktown Patriots completed their first undefeated regular season since 2003 with a 10-0 record in high-school club ice hockey. In its final match, Yorktown blanked Flint Hill, 10-1.” [Sun Gazette]
High School Hoops Update — “Two Arlington teams advanced to the semifinals and another lost in first-round action of the girls and boys 6D North Region high-school basketball tournaments the night of Feb. 22. Moving on are the Washington-Liberty Generals in boys action and the Yorktown Patriots in girls, each Liberty District tournament champions. The Wakefield Warriors (11-10) had their season end with a first-round 69-56 loss to the host Madison Warhawks in a boys game.” [Sun Gazette]
Va. ABC Removes Russian Vodka — “In the spirit of Gov. Youngkin’s call for decisive action in support of Ukraine, Virginia ABC is removing 7 Russian-sourced vodka brands from our store shelves. Russian-themed brands not produced in Russia like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff will not be removed.” [Twitter, Axios]
Nearby: Bailey’s Xroads Arson Suspect Sought — “Fire investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying a person of interest related to a fire that occurred on Tuesday, February 22, at approximately 6:30 a.m., in the 5600 block of Columbia Pike.” [Twitter, Fairfax County Fire/Rescue]
It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 43 and low of 31. Sunrise at 6:43 am and sunset at 6:01 pm. [Weather.gov]
Since the deal in December, Jair Lynch has started conducting initial property assessments to understand what substantive repairs and renovations need to be done in the short term to improve residential quality of life and building safety, Anthony Startt, the company’s director of investments, tells ARLnow.
It’s also working with Barcroft Apartments property management company Gates Hudson to meet with residents individually and at welcome events and administer surveys to understand their living situations.
“We are assuring all of our residents that no one will be displaced,” he said.
The garden apartments at 1130 S. George Mason Drive sprawl across 60 acres and house more tenants than some rural towns. They happen to be some of the last market-rate affordable apartments in Arlington, and proponents of the county’s $150 million loan heralded the significant investment in preserving affordable housing, while critics said the deal went through too quickly and without enough community oversight.
Now, the hard work on the county side begins: drafting a long-term investment plan and figuring out how to involve the community, particularly Barcroft residents, in the planning process. Community leaders and County Board members say this will have to balance blue-sky ideas with the financial constraints that come with an affordable housing project, all while working within the parameters of the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code that governs development in the area.
“There are a lot of cool things people would love to see, but the money first has to go toward preservation of 1,334 units, which I don’t know of a larger housing preservation deal in the D.C. area, ever,” says John Snyder, the chair of the Columbia Pike Partnership board (formerly the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, or CPRO).
He served as a representative of the Douglas Park neighborhood on the working group that developed the the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code.
Snyder’s must-haves include an on-site bus stop and bicycle stations to ensure there isn’t a large influx of cars clogging up S. George Mason Drive. His wish list includes a municipal swimming pool and playgrounds. There’s also interest in a daycare or a school.
“It’s going to be very interesting as all of this moves forward in the planning process,” Snyder says. “I just envision people getting great ideas and looking at the other end of the table where the engineers and accountants are sweating, wondering how they can do this… In other places, maybe we can raise the rent, but we can’t here.”
The County Board has encouraged county planning staff to prioritize a review the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code — which has some guidance on building size and placement, but not other topics such as form or ground-floor retail — to ensure the plans act as a floor, and not a ceiling, for whatever Jair Lynch proposes.
Local child care centers will have to stay the course with longer quarantine and isolation periods, says Arlington County’s Public Health Division.
That could mean multiple contingency plans for parents with kids in child care, who have already weathered holiday closures and winter-weather closures. (Many facilities follow the snow closure or delay lead of Arlington Public Schools, which was closed all week.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened isolation and quarantine periods last month to five days for the general population. This week, the CDC announced it will be bringing its guidelines for K-12 schools in alignment with the shortened quarantine and isolation.
There’s one place where the new quarantine and isolation guidelines won’t go into effect, save for fully vaccinated and boosted staff: Arlington’s child care settings.
That’s because Arlington’s littlest kids either should not wear a mask or do not wear them reliably, meaning the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant is highly likely in these settings, according to the public health division.
“A full 10-day isolation and quarantine period was recommended because of the difficulty to enforce mask wearing in such a young population (i.e. children under 2 years old should not wear a mask),” Public Health spokesman Ryan Hudson told ARLnow.
The interim guidance came out Wednesday, as Arlington and the Northern Virginia region continue to see high levels of COVID-19 transmission, and will be in effect until the CDC comes out with guidance specific to child care settings — which are known as places where kids pick up all kinds of germs.
“The CDC’s recent updates to shorten the isolation and quarantine period are for the general population, including K-12 school settings,” Hudson said. “In absence of specific guidance from the CDC regarding child care centers, Arlington County Public Health provided interim guidelines, subject to change based on updates from the CDC.”
One local child care provider that had started implementing the new CDC guidance acknowledged the flip-flop may cause disruption for families.
“We had been following the recent CDC 5 day isolation period, which we confirmed with [the Virginia] Department of Health last week,” the facility’s director wrote. “However, in light of the omicron variant and the current surge, Arlington County has recently announced interim guidelines for child care settings which we must follow. We understand that this recent change is frustrating but we are our trying our best to follow the policies, which do keep changing.”
Pre-pandemic child care was in short supply in Arlington, as it was in many parts of the country, in part because of a shortage of child care workers. The pandemic has exacerbated these realities and forced many parents, especially mothers, to quit their jobs.
Board Chair Katie Cristol, who has worked on a number of efforts to fight the local child care shortage, says she’s still learning about the new recommendations and the tensions that public health professionals and child care providers have to navigate right now.
But the biggest challenge facing child care providers during the pandemic remains staffing, which the guidelines could exacerbate.
“From my conversations with providers, their biggest challenges over the last year have been with staffing,” Cristol said. “I think this reflects the general upheaval in the labor market, as well as the ongoing difficulty of affording high-quality staff in a very low-margin business, and — at least anecdotally — the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff seems to be making it hard for some providers to expand hours or capacity as they try to adjust back to ‘normal’ after the first year of the pandemic.”
To boost child care employee recruitment during this time, the county has provided training and is working with the local Richmond delegation to pass legislation that would improve how benefits like retirement and health care get to employees.
“It remains a big challenge, for certain,” she said.
The county also supports centers through ongoing health consultations and informational resources, and has run targeted vaccination clinics for child care providers and employees, Cristol noted.
The new Arlington Public Health guidelines for local child care providers are below.
Members of the Arlington County Board say they have their work cut out for them in 2022.
They were unanimous in their chief priorities for the new year — COVID-19, housing, climate change and equity — just as they were unanimous in choosing a new board chair, Katie Cristol, and a new vice chair, Christian Dorsey.
“By no means is this pandemic over, but since it’s clear that COVID-19 will be providing us no respite for reflection, we will have to make our own,” Cristol said in her opening speech as chair. “Given the uncertainty of our commercial revenues, let me be clear: These commitments almost certainly mean less funding available for implementing new priorities or programs, but after two pandemic years, it is time to put our money where our ‘Thank you essential workers!’ window signs are.”
She celebrated the county’s high vaccination rates as a sign that Arlington will get through the pandemic, and the newest wave of cases fueled by the Omicron variant, together.
“[E]ven in this peak, our hospitalizations numbers remain in the very low single digits, and if we keep getting vaccinated, getting boosted, masking and demonstrating responsibility to one another, we will get through this — not as fast as we had all hoped, nor with the finality with which we all long for — but we will,” she said.
Dorsey likewise expressed his confidence Arlington will come out on the other side of the pandemic as a stronger county.
“I am not going to predict when we get to our new normal or even what our new normal will be, but I am certain and quite confident that if we rely on the resilience that has been honed during the pandemic and remain focused on achieving our goals for sustainability, housing our community and achieving racial equity, we will emerge on the other side both better and stronger,” he said.
Cristol will pick up her chief priority — child care — where she left off when she was last the Board’s leader in 2018.
“This pandemic has exposed what we’ve always known to be true: Our country is a hard place to raise children,” she said. “Arlington alone can’t fix all the obstacles facing families, but we can continue to make progress on our own vision, which is that all Arlington County families have access to high quality, affordable childcare.”
This year, she said, the county will focus on increasing the number of child care providers and eligible families who participate in Virginia’s child care subsidy program and providing child care during non-traditional hours.
2022 will be a big year for working toward Arlington’s energy goals for 2025, 2035 and 2050, Dorsey said. Arlington aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
“I propose we prioritize taking every practical opportunity through our budget work this year to de-intensify carbon use in our government operations, and as we look to develop our capital improvements plan, we should plan to utilize sustainable products and systems — even if they are not quite practical today. Let’s envision and dare to dream for when it might be,” he said.
And on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Board members Libby Garvey and Takis Karantonis were thinking about the state of the nation’s democracy. Garvey said she will encourage civil discourse as much as she can in 2022.
“There are lots of angry people in this country and they have guns,” Garvey said. “We here are relatively sheltered, but some of those who attacked the [U.S. Capitol building] stayed in Arlington and many drove through Arlington on their way to the Capitol. The danger to our democracy is not a local issue but it is a local threat. I am not sure what we should do about it, but I do know that we and the entire region need to stay close and keep our public safety systems strong and nimble.”
Arlington County could use federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to take a swing at making the “Arlington Way” work for more residents.
From what a development project should look like to where protected bike lanes could go, Arlington often invites residents to have a say in policy-making, a local community engagement philosophy known as the “Arlington Way.”
Although it’s a point of pride for the county, officials and staff have acknowledged that these pathways privilege those with the time, resources and connections to invest in discussions about projects, studies and policies — typically older, more affluent residents.
Left out of important county conversations, then, is Arlington’s growing population of renters, parents of young kids, people who work non-traditional hours, people without access to reliable and affordable transportation, and those who are not fluent English speakers.
This is not just a topic Arlington is grappling with. Over in Richmond, the city gave out small stipends to people who participated in updating its citywide master plan. And nationally, compensation has emerged as a “best practice” to “ensure lived experience and community expertise are fairly compensated and publicly recognized,” according to the Urban Institute.
So now, the county is proposing to allocate $50,000 during this fiscal year for a pilot program exploring different ways to make it easier for underrepresented community members to participate in engagement processes through compensation. It would apply to one-time meetings for issues as they arise as well as the longer-term time commitment of an ongoing advisory commission.
“Improving engagement with, and representation in civic structures by, historically underserved communities is a key priority nationally and for Arlington County,” according to a county ARPA spending plan. “Recent Dialogues on Race and Equity surfaced community perspectives that Arlington’s structures for decisions and public input are narrow, advantage dominant perspectives and do not offer access or representation for communities of color to County government leadership.”
Compensation could look like gift cards, childcare and meals, or waived transportation costs. As part of the pilot, the county will collect data on whether these practices increase the diversity of those who participate in government processes.
Championing this cause is Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, who told ARLnow earlier this month that there would soon be news about how the county aims to tackle the “Arlington Way.”
“From my perspective, this $50k in ARPA funding is important because it will help catalyze complicated, government-wide conversations about how to reduce barriers for underrepresented Arlingtonians to participate in public processes,” she said. “One of our most challenging issues is the question of how to value time spent, and address obstacles to participation, in our standing advisory bodies.”
She commended the county’s Communications and Public Engagement team for doing “some very exciting work engaging residents in more ad-hoc opportunities,” such as when the county went out to the Lubber Run Community Center to ask kids to sketch out what they’d like to see from a recreation facility.
“But we also do still derive a lot of value from groups, like Commissions, that advise the County over time and can serve as ‘laboratories’ for new ideas; and it’s clearly a lot harder to engage in that kind of ongoing commitment if childcare, transportation, opportunity costs of shift work, etc. are obstacles for you,” she said.
Previously, she said, this has been tested out in Arlington with private funding. When Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing hosted planning meetings about the future of Columbia Pike, it organized multi-lingual sessions with dinner and childcare provided with funding from an outside grant, she said.
Eventually, the county aims to turn the results of the pilot into “common policies that can be implemented across County departments and projects,” according to the funding plan.
When asked who will oversee the pilot program and when it could be rolled out, as well as who would monitor the money to ensure it gets to the right people and so that it isn’t used to engineer who participates, a county spokeswoman said answers will come when the pilot program kicks off.
“That will all be developed in an implementation plan if/when approved by the county board,” she said.
County Board members are expected to vote on the allocation plan when they meet in November.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington has long prided itself on the pathways available to residents to have a say in local policy-making, also known as the “Arlington Way.”
But a growing number of county officials, local leaders and civic groups think the tradition, while noble in aim, doesn’t work for everyone. They say it leans too much on affluent retirees and sabotages the county’s equity efforts.
For years, Arlington County has acknowledged that its traditional engagement processes privilege those with the time, resources and connections to invest in discussions about projects, studies and policies. That leaves out a growing segment of the population outside that mold: renters, parents of young kids, people who work non-traditional hours, people without access to reliable and affordable transportation, and those who are not fluent English speakers.
References to the “Arlington Way” arose in a County Board public comment period this summer that ran long due to controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market, which shut out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments. More recently, diversity concerns prompted the Arlington County Civic Federation — which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss local topics — to pass a resolution prioritizing improved community outreach and representation.
Amid this renewed focus, some novel approaches and long-term reforms have been proposed that county and civic leaders and community engagement staff tell ARLnow could widen the Arlington Way.
“Generally speaking, Arlington residents care about the issues that impact them, but do they know about it? How do they get the information?” asks Samia Byrd, Arlington’s Chief Race and Equity Officer. “We take for granted that residents know how to participate in the process.”
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol reprised the dilemma last week during a conversation about the community oversight board, which is currently seeking members to review cases of alleged police misconduct.
“We’ve been wrestling with… how we properly compensate people for that time and expertise,” Cristol said, as quoted by County Board watcher Stephen Repetski. “Because, frankly, that is… one of the biggest reasons you see our most heavy-hitting community engagement activities tend to rely disproportionately on well-off retirees.”
In a follow-up conversation, she told ARLnow that she’s been thinking about diversity in County Board-appointed commissions.
Six years ago, she believed that the solution would be finding and recruiting new faces at all levels of leadership. Over time, she’s realized the homogeneity of civic leadership is a consequence of how engagement is structured. Night meetings — or even day meetings — at county headquarters disadvantage students, parents and anyone who doesn’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including overworked young professionals.
“It actually was not just about inviting more diverse people to the table, as defined, but maybe the table was defined in a way that made it hard for certain people to sit there,” she said. “There have to be many ways to engage.”
Those involved in county communications tell ARLnow they likewise think about diversity, not in terms of commission composition and structure, but in terms of regular outreach.
Who’s left out?
Assistant County Manager and Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer has been tackling community engagement homogeneity since she was hired in 2016. She and Byrd both say “it’s been a challenge” to reach people who aren’t white, affluent or a retiree, as well as people who don’t already know how to get involved or navigate the county website.
(Updated 5 p.m.) Arlington Children’s Center, a childcare facility that has operated in a county-owned building for 30 years, will close temporarily at the end of August.
Doors to the facility at 1915 N. Uhle Street, near Courthouse, will shut on Aug. 31, when the contract expires between Arlington County and the company operating the program, AA Daycare, according to Arlington County spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith. The two could not reach an agreement to extend the contract ahead of major renovations slated for January 2022, she said.
AA Daycare has managed the program, which enrolled children of Arlington residents and county employees, for the last 17 years, according to owner Anna Wodzynska.
“This is a dramatic situation for all of us,” she said in an email to parents.
According to a letter to parents from the county, shared with ARLnow, the county and AA Daycare were negotiating an extension up until a week before the news of the closure. Parents were notified of the changing situation last Wednesday.
Parents tell ARLnow they are under immense pressure to find an alternative while childcare is in such high demand. One said this “is a herculean task given that most daycare centers in the area have waitlists of at least 6-9 months. If the county is serious about solving the childcare shortage issue, this decision is baffling.”
AA Daycare was notified about the planned renovations to the space, which has not been updated in 30 years, in January 2020, Smith said.
“We offered alternative space to AA Daycare to continue operations for the period of planned construction,” she said. “This offer, along with an option to extend the contract, was declined.”
Parents said they had heard about the upcoming renovations early last year. The county letter to parents said the planned improvements include reconfiguring the space to meet current standards for daycare and to reach compliance with the Americans with Disability Act, as well as an interior refresh.
“We started at ACC in January 2020 when our daughter was 4.5 months old,” said one mother. “Shortly after starting, I do remember receiving a flyer from the center detailing that, at some time, work would need to be done on the building… But it was not worrisome at the time, and it was certainly not presented in a way that the center would unexpectedly close forcing families to find new care within 6 weeks.”
Smith acknowledged the parents’ frustrations.
“We recognize this is short notice and have offered to assist parents as best we can — this was not the outcome we wanted,” she said.
Wodzynska, meanwhile, has assured parents that their children who are two-and-a-half years old and older will have a spot in a sister facility in Ballston, at 3850 Wilson Blvd. She said the transition “will be as smooth as possible,” with some staff transferring to BCC.
“The only consolation is that less than 2 miles away from ACC, we own another beautiful daycare called Ballston Children’s Center and we have space for all our children that are 2.5 years and older,” she wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, BCC is not licensed for younger children, so we will not be able to enroll our youngest children.”
She declined to comment further on the closure.
(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) With a snip of a ribbon, the newly-renovated Columbia Pike Branch Library officially opened for the first time since March 2020.
The library on S. Walter Reed Drive, which first opened in 1975, underwent a significant makeover including new furnishings, updated carpeting, fresh coats of paint, additional meeting rooms, modernized audio-visual equipment and new lighting.
The 21,000-item collection has been consolidated to the first floor to make room for an expansion of the Arlington Tech high school program. The program is part of the Arlington Career Center, located on the second floor of the facility.
“We didn’t lose any collections, we gained a couple of meeting rooms, and we gained more discrete spaces,” Arlington Public Library Director Diane Kresh tells ARLnow. “[The renovation] opened up what had been a lot of wasted space. It really feels bigger.”
Renovations for the entire project, on the first and second floors, cost approximately $4.45 million, according to a spokesperson from Arlington Public Schools, which owns the building.
Kresh says APS’s ownership of the building presented a chance to make the library better.
“The library has always shared the space with schools. It’s a well-loved facility and showed a lot of wear and tear,” says Kresh. “So, when the schools planned to renovate and increase the space of the Career Center, that gave us an opportunity to consolidate down here and do a redesign.”
Kresh notes that while closing the libraries last year due to the pandemic was difficult for staff and the community, there was a “silver lining” — the renovations could get done.
The library opened to the public on Tuesday, but the celebration was held yesterday evening (Thursday).
With a vaccination rate close to 70% for adults, people packed the community library. There were donuts and cookies, and kids eating said treats while darting one way and another. A magician performed for a rapt audience. After remarks and ribbon cutting, a cover band churned out classics such as “Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy.” The entire Arlington County Board was in attendance, as was County Manager Mark Schwartz and Del. Alfonso Lopez.
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol says celebrating the reopening of this library — her neighborhood library — after such a hard year is welcome.
“It’s a sign of restoration of things, things coming back to normal,” Cristol tells ARLnow. “It is also the first sign of the community being able to come back together, which is definitely what we see going on around here.”
Cristol said her favorite thing about coming to the library was to browse new fiction releases, but that’s changed.
“I now have a two-year old who loves books, so I think my favorite thing about the library is about to be this community room,” she said.
As of Tuesday, library services have expanded at five locations: Columbia Pike, Central Library, Aurora Hills, Shirlington and Westover. This ends the express service model that APL had implemented earlier this year.
New Hours at all Five Open Locations:
– Monday/Tuesday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
– Wednesday/Thursday: 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.
– Friday/Saturday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. https://t.co/KNjso8PCS3
— Arlington VA Pub Lib (@ArlingtonVALib) July 2, 2021
Patrons now have full access to library collections with no time limit on browsing. Spaced seating is available to use the public Wi-Fi along with full access to restrooms and water fountains.