Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

New APS Verification System — “For the 2019-20 school year, Arlington Public Schools will implement a new annual online verification process for updating and maintaining accurate student information. This will replace the First Day Packet students used to receive on the first day of school.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Garvey: Board Should Get Full-Time Pay — From Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, who has previously spoken out about the issue: “To expect 5 Board members to hold outside jobs to supplement our $55k salary while maintaining Arlington’s presence in the region and the Board’s connection to the multitude of civic associations, commissions, and organizations we have is, I believe, unreasonable and not healthy for our County.” [Libby Garvey, Blue Virginia]

Border Wall May Cost Local Projects — Arlington may lose out on more than $50 million in military construction projects — including a road project and Pentagon exterior and security upgrades — if the money is diverted to President Trump’s southern border wall project. In all, nearly a half billion dollars worth of projects are at risk in Virginia. [WUSA 9]

Cyclist Struck in Shirlington — “ACFD on scene of a cyclist struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Shirlington Road at Arlington Mill, in Shirlington. Victim is being transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, per scanner. Several lanes blocked.” [Twitter]

Wardian Does it Again — “Running from south to north, Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia has set an FKT on the 631-mile (1,009K) Israel National Trail of 10 days, 16 hours and 36 minutes (unofficially). That’s like running a 100K race every day for 10 days.” [Trail Running]

Ride Hailing Service for Kids Comes to Arlington — “A California transportation service is looking to make life easier for Greater Washington families — by driving their kids. Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive Inc., whose service chauffeurs kids between school and other activities much like a family-friendly Uber or Lyft, is launching in the D.C. area, now live in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Virginia Hospital Center executives celebrated when they finally earned permission to expand the hospital’s North Arlington campus and execute a long-planned land swap with the county — but one of the consequences of the deal has some employees and parents feeling blindsided.

VHC is gearing up to send Arlington its property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road in Glencarlyn, in exchange for gaining control over a piece of land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The latter property is adjacent to its existing facilities along N. George Mason Drive, and will be a key part of the hospital’s hotly debated expansion plans.

Of course, that’s going to prompt some big changes at the Carlin Springs Road site as the county takes over. Among them is the impending closure of a childcare center that the hospital operated on the property in tandem with Bright Horizons, serving VHC employees and local parents alike.

The daycare facility is now set to close on July 26, according to letters from both VHC and Bright Horizons provided to ARLnow. Though that deadline may be a full four months away, parents with kids at the daycare say they’re now scrambling to find alternative options.

The county is currently facing a childcare crunch, with local leaders currently weighing strategies to bring down the cost of daycare options in Arlington, and VHC parents say those conditions have only exacerbated the shock they felt about the childcare center’s closing.

“I was feeling reassured that finally Arlington realized that there’s more demand than supply when it comes to childcare, and now this happens,” said one parent, who declined to be identified. “It’s ironic that in Arlington, where there’s supposed to be some attention to how challenging it is to find childcare centers, instead of opening a new place we’re closing one of the big ones down and forcing families and employees to figure things out on their own.”

A spokesperson for the hospital would only confirm that the center is closing sometime this year, saying that “the details of the closing are still being worked out,” but otherwise would not comment on the situation.

Mike Malone, VHC’s vice president for administrative services and chief human resources officer, wrote in a letter to parents that it was his “great disappointment” to have to close the center. He said “the county will be repurposing the land on the Carlin Springs campus and demolishing the building,” prompting the closure — VHC leaders previously told ARLnow that the land swap would be finalized by May or June at the latest.

Malone added that Bright Horizons is “committed to helping every current family find care in another Bright Horizons center or [helping] you transition into another center of your choosing.”

In a letter of their own, Bright Horizons executives pointed to the “over two dozen centers spread across the metro area” that the company operates as options for parents. They also noted that they have “resources available to facilitate your child’s transition,” and said they plan to help staff at the center find jobs at other Bright Horizons locations.

Parents at the center told ARLnow that help is appreciated, but they fear it isn’t enough to manage the transition.

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The “Feel the Heritage” festival, Arlington’s annual celebration of African American history and culture, returns to Nauck this weekend.

The 27th edition of the community event is set to be held Saturday (Feb. 23) at the Charles Drew Community Center (3500 23rd Street S.). The festival will run from 1-6 p.m.

The event is set to feature a full lineup of live entertainment, “from traditional African dancing and drumming to soul and funk,” according the event’s website. Local vendors will also be offering everything from jewelry to homemade hot sauce.

The festival will include a variety of free arts and crafts activities, plus face painting, balloon art and a chance to meet critters from the Gulf Branch and Long Branch Nature Centers.

And be sure to come hungry — the event will also feature “Foods Around the World” Plinko, giving participants a chance to taste foods from around the globe at random, as well as a “soul food cook-off competition” featuring dishes from seafood gumbo to peach pie.

Limited on-site parking will be available, with overflow parking at the Macedonia Baptist Church (3412 22nd Street S.).

If you’re planning on hopping on a scooter to head to the festival, Bird is offering $5 off for anyone using the code “BIRDHERITAGE.”

Flickr pool photo via Arlington County Parks and Recreation

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The Jumping Joeys children’s gym looks set to re-open in Market Common Clarendon, after closing in Virginia Square in 2017.

Jumping Joeys applied for a building permit at 2800 Clarendon Blvd late last year, according to Arlington Economic Development records.

It’s not immediately clear where the new gym would be located. But there’s currently only one vacant space on the second floor of the building at 2800 Clarendon Blvd, not far from the Pottery Barn store.

Representatives for the gym, which offers all manner of bounce-house-style activities for kids, didn’t respond to a request for comment on their plans.

Jumping Joeys currently operates another location at 402 W. Broad Street in Falls Church, and once had a space in an office park across from (the newly renamed) Washington-Liberty High School as well.

But that location shut down in November 2017, as the county eyes new uses for its much-discussed “Buck property,” where the gym was located. School officials are still studying the prospect of someday building a new school on the site, or perhaps new office space for staff. Deliberations on the matter very much remain ongoing.

As for Market Common itself, the development has seen a whole host of changes recently, and will eventually be part of a wider redevelopment of the block.

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Democrat Matt de Ferranti wants to end child hunger in Arlington if he wins a spot on the County Board next week, and he says he can achieve that goal in the next four years.

In debates, campaign mailers, and his official platform, de Ferranti has pledged to ensure that no child in the county goes hungry by the time his first term on the Board would be up in 2022.

It’s a target that some observers think Arlington can meet, but gives others pause. And, crucially, it’s a key area of difference between de Ferranti and the man he’s hoping to unseat: independent John Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.

Both of the contenders for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall want to reduce hunger in the county, of course. Yet the pair differs on how to achieve that goal, and how much the Board should prioritize it in the first place, providing a clear contrast between candidates who otherwise broadly agree on many of the pressing issues facing the county.

“The differences between me and my opponent are not always in votes, they’re often in agenda and focus,” de Ferranti told ARLnow. “I think we have to call Arlingtonians to be committed to this equity and be a caring, compassionate community on hunger in ways that we haven’t been called to until this point.”

Vihstadt and de Ferranti agree that the county could use more data on hunger and food insecurity in Arlington, and say they’d support a new study of the matter. The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) teamed up with Virginia Tech to release a paper on the matter back in 2012, and both Board contenders are eager for an update to that document.

Yet the incumbent admits to being a bit puzzled that de Ferranti is bringing up the issue so frequently in the first place, and would much rather wait for more information before acting.

“He is the only one who’s talking about critical gaps in child hunger,” Vihstadt said. “I haven’t heard an explanation of why we’re doing this by 2022 and why we’re only talking about child hunger versus senior hunger. He’s raised a good issue, but I would want to see more analysis on this.”

De Ferranti says he’s so focused on child hunger, specifically, because research links food insecurity to stunted development among children, and suggests that kids learn less if they come to school hungry. But he’s also relying on data from AFAC, the most prominent Arlington nonprofit focusing on hunger, claiming the numbers demand urgent attention to child hunger.

Charlie Meng, the executive director of AFAC, says de Ferranti is right to do so, and notes that he’s raised the issue with the County Board. In data Meng provided to ARLnow, AFAC has indeed seen a steady increase in the number of people requesting meals through the center, and an increase in the number of children served, specifically.

The numbers show that, in fiscal year 2014, AFAC served meals to 3,034 children. That number crept slowly upward over the years, and AFAC served 4,349 children in fiscal year 2018, an increase of about 43.3 percent over those four years.

“The question to the county is always: what’re your priorities?” Meng said. “It’s not always the government’s responsibility, but better support and coordination would go a long way to solving this issue.”

Meng believes that de Ferranti is absolutely correct that the county could effectively cut the number of hungry kids to zero within the next few years, “especially if the coordination and the desire to is there.

On that front, Meng thinks a good place to start would be sending AFAC more money each year.

The county currently allocates about $478,000 annually to help the nonprofit stay afloat, but Meng says AFAC largely depends on private donors to afford its roughly $7.5 million yearly operating budget. For the last two years, the county tacked on an extra $50,000 in one-time funds to send to the center, but the Board declined to do so this year amid a tight budget crunch.

Meng says he hasn’t needed to cut back on any of his programs after losing out on that money, but he has had to work a bit harder to fundraise to make up the difference. He believes that restoring that money, and even sending AFAC a bit more, would make a huge difference in helping the nonprofit identify hungry kids and reach them.

“They give me $478,000, and I give them $7 million in services,” Meng said. “The deal I give these guys is crazy. If you take money away, I can make it up, but it never makes anything easy.”

De Ferranti says he strongly disagreed with the Board’s decision not to send AFAC the additional funding. Even in a challenging budget environment, he argues “we should not be cutting back when the need in terms of the number of families per month has not decreased.”

Vihstadt is sympathetic to Meng’s case, but points out that AFAC already receives more county financial support than most nonprofits in Arlington. Similarly, he said the Board decided not to tack on any more funding in this year’s budget because members trusted in Meng’s fundraising prowess.

“There are nonprofits who are struggling and who do great work: AFAC is not one of them,” Vihstadt said. “I know he used that $50,000 reduction as an opportunity to raise money. I would love to know how much he raised as a result.”

Others working on the issue of child hunger across the state wonder if a focus on services in county schools might be the surer way for Arlington to reach de Ferranti’s goal.

Claire Mansfield, the director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, says her organization largely focuses on making sure schools offer “healthy, nutritious” meals for breakfast and lunch, as that’s generally the easiest way to reach kids who might not know where their next meal is coming from at home.

She’s particularly interested in making sure that schools not only serve a healthy breakfast, but do so as part of the regular school day, which can “remove the stigma” around students looking for a free or reduced price meal.

Mansfield points out that some, but not all of Arlington’s schools offer breakfast in the classroom — Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says Randolph Elementary, Oakridge and Hoffman-Boston all do so, though Randolph only offers it to preschoolers and kindergarteners.

Mansfield says expanding such programs can have a huge impact, and that Oakridge has already seen a difference since starting breakfast in the classroom. According to her data, only 24 percent of students at the school eligible for free and reduced lunch ate breakfast in the 2014-15 school year; by last year, that number was up to 85 percent.

She added that schools can be key destinations for hungry kids looking to receive meals over the summer. Bellavia said the school system set up nine such “summer meal sites” this year, and Mansfield believes such options are a key way to fill in “gaps” in reaching families in need.

However, she’s a bit more hesitant than Meng to declare that simply following her prescriptions could definitively end child hunger in the county.

“I’m not one to put a timeline on that per se; if I could do it tomorrow I would do it tomorrow,” Mansfield said. “It’s just a case of making a commitment and saying, ‘We know how to solve this and we’re going to do what it takes.'”

Meng says he’s more than willing to do more work with county schools — in fact, one of his priorities is to expand AFAC’s “summer backpack program,” partnering with schools to reach hungry kids when class isn’t in session.

But to do so, he needs more money, and he says that’s where the County Board’s leadership matters on this question.

“We hear all the time, ‘Where are these people who need food?'” Meng said. “All you have to do is look around. Where do you think these people come from who are washing your dishes, doing your laundry, getting paid $7.25 an hour? We have them in this community. But we may not very long.”

Photo via @NottinghamSCA

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Arlington officials are outlining more details about potential changes on the way for the county’s childcare policies, raising the possibility that Arlington could soon allow more children in small daycare centers, cut back on the permitting and zoning requirements for daycares and reduce the number of staff required for each center to operate.

County leaders have spent years studying what they could do to make childcare more accessible and affordable for Arlington parents, signing off on some broad goals with a “Childcare Action Plan” this summer. But the County Board is also hoping to make some more specific tweaks to its childcare ordinances, and a survey released this week reveals some of the proposals officials could consider before the year is up.

The Board has already agreed to set up a new subsidy to defray childcare costs for families that don’t qualify for state assistance, and plans to streamline some of its online resources for parents looking to find childcare options. Yet, after holding a community forum on the topic this month, the Board could endorse a dozen or more separate policy changes this December.

The new survey looks to collect yet more opinions on the proposed changes. Chiefly, the county could soon allow up to 12 children in small, family daycare homes, up from the current limit of nine. That change would match state law, which permits up to 12 kids in such a setting.

The Board could also do away with its requirement that anyone looking to open a new family childcare center first secure separate “use permits” from the county, making the process “by-right” instead to speed the proliferation of those daycare facilities. Additionally, the Board could eliminate limits on operating hours for those centers, or allow them to open earlier or stay open later to better accommodate working parents.

Another option the Board could consider would be changing its zoning ordinance to set more uniform standards for daycares, in order to help compensate for a lack of permit reviews. New guidelines could include limits on the hours of outdoor playtime for kids or requirements surrounding screening and buffering for playgrounds.

As for larger daycare centers, the Board may also allow them to bump up classroom sizes across kids of various age ranges. For instance, the county currently caps daycares at 10 children per class for two-year-olds, 16 per class for three-year-olds, and 25 per class for kids ranging from 6 to 14.

The Board could choose to adopt state standards instead, including a limit of 24 kids for age 2 and 30 for age three, with no cap on the number of kids per class above the age of six.

Finally, the Board could reduce the number of caregivers each daycare is required to have on staff, or change up its educational requirements for daycare staffers. The county currently stipulates that daycare providers should have two years of college experience, with evidence of childcare-focused coursework — the Board could move instead to state standards, which require a high school diploma and a set amount of relevant experience and training.

The survey on childcare changes is set to close by Friday (Oct. 12).

Photo via Arlington County

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Arlington officials are moving closer to setting up a new financial assistance program to help families afford childcare, with overhauls to zoning and parking requirements for daycare facilities possible before the year is out.

The County Board signed off yesterday (Tuesday) on a final version of a “Childcare Action Plan” it’s been eyeing since late last year, setting the stage for leaders to address the affordability and availability of childcare in Arlington following years of debate.

In the near term, the county will work with local businesses and nonprofits to set up a program to defray childcare costs for families who don’t qualify for state subsidies, similar to existing efforts in Alexandria and D.C. Staff also plan to study the county’s childcare needs and shortcomings in more detail, building on work they’ve done over the last year or so, and make the county’s online resources for childcare providers a bit more streamlined.

By December, the Board plans to rewrite some of its zoning ordinances to make it a bit easier for daycare centers to open and operate in the county, with the goal of bringing costs for parents down in the process. That same month, the Board will propose changes to the county’s childcare codes, with a vote on the edits soon afterward.

Leaders haven’t quite finalized what all of those changes will look like, with community engagement and public hearings to discuss the specifics set for the coming months, but they’re broadly aiming to give parents more affordable options for daycare around Arlington.

“We’ve come a far way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey pointed out that Arlington parents foot the highest average annual bill for childcare for an infant and a 4-year-old out of any locality in the region. The county’s average cost of $42,705 per year, compared to $40,521 in D.C. and $37,787 in Alexandria per staff’s findings, left Dorsey “gobsmacked” and eager to see what the Board could do to bring that figure down.

“I can’t imagine our rents are higher than they are in D.C.,” Dorsey said. “The District has just as much supply-demand pressure, yet we’re more expensive… I’m not interested in Arlington exceptionalism when it comes to this.”

One contributing factor could be the county’s parking requirements for daycare facilities. Deborah Warren, the deputy director of the county’s Department of Human Services, noted that Arlington currently requires providers to have one parking space for each employee, in addition to space for pickups and drop offs.

The Board could tweak that requirement to make it easier for more facilities to open in the county’s densest neighborhoods, or even let smaller, family daycare providers avoid the lengthy process of applying for a special use permit before opening their doors.

“If it takes less time, there’s less of a process to go through, hopefully we can increase the number that’s out there,” said Kimberly Vacca, an associate planner with the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

With roughly 13,435 children under the age of 5 in the county and 6,894 spaces in licensed daycares, as of 2015, county leaders recognize they have an urgent need to somehow attract more providers to the area.

Dorsey urged the Board not to lose sight of the county’s focus on using its regulations to enforce high standards at all of its daycare facilities, yet the entire Board expressed a desire to see some of those requirements somehow loosened by the time this process wraps up.

“To the extent that the pendulum swings between affordability and quality, the pendulum might’ve swung a bit too far away from affordability here,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.

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The fifth annual Arlington Youth Triathlon will kick off next Sunday, June 10, at the Washington-Lee High School pool.

The public event hosted by the Arlington Triathlon Club will feature swimming, running and biking among children ages 7-15 and will start at 7:30 a.m.  The Arlington Youth Triathlon is a part of the USA Triathlon Mideast Region Youth Triathlon Series, where young triathletes from Ohio to Tennessee will come to Arlington to participate.

The triathlon will include a pool swim, a bike ride on closed streets around the school and a track finish. Each event features short distances to include kids of all abilities.

This year’s triathlon will be held in honor of Anne Viviani, an Arlington resident who died April 9 in a car crash striking a deer on I-85 in South Carolina. Viviani, 68, was a world champion triathlete and coach.

Registration for the Arlington Youth Triathlon is open until June 9. It costs $75 to register before May 15, and $85 afterward.

Photo Courtesy Arlington Triathlon Club

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A proposed child care center in Courthouse is likely to be approved by the County Board at this weekend’s meeting, but it is not without some controversy.

Residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominiums have raised concerns about the proximity of the proposed Bright Horizons child care center to Arlington’s Homeless Services Center, according to the county staff report.

Several tenants of the Courthouse condominium building publicly opposed the homeless shelter prior to its construction due to safety and property value concerns.

The 24-hour homeless shelter is at 2020 14th Street N., and the child care facility would be at 2000 14th Street N. That’s a distance of less than 330 feet, according to a Google Maps estimate.

Pending approval, the child care center would also be near Ragtime restaurant, as well as Arlington County Police headquarters, the county jail and the county courthouse.

The center is slated to have a maximum permitted enrollment of 136 children, but the number could be set lower by Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services if deemed necessary.

County staff concluded that “the proposed location of the Bright Horizons child care center is not anticipated to cause an undue adverse impact on the surrounding community and will provide a valuable service at the proposed location.”

The report added that the site has adequate parking spaces and public transportation access. The child care center would convert 10,868 square feet of office space into child care use. An outdoor plaza would be converted into a 4,645 square foot outdoor play space enclosed by a five foot fence.

The Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association did not object to the child care center and several nearby apartment buildings did not respond to county staff’s notification, according to county documents.

The child care center would help with the county’s lack of available child care services. The shortage of child care options — particularly affordable options — relative to demand prompted the launch of the county’s Child Care Initiative in December.

Bright Horizons has agreed to operate from Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. The child care chain has three locations in Arlington already — in Rosslyn, Ballston, and Crystal City — and has dozens across the country.

Attempts to reach a current representative of the Woodbury Heights Condominium Association were unsuccessful.

Photo via Arlington County

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Ellen DeGeneres surprised two Arlingtonians via live shot today (March 13) after one wrote to the show asking to share their surrogacy story.

After Katelin Buchanan suffered from five miscarriages, her best friend Erica Huston offered to be a surrogate for Buchanan and her husband. She’s now pregnant with the couple’s twins.

Ellen DeGeneres Show correspondent Jeannie Klisiewicz met with the best friends and surprised them with a live streamed meeting with DeGeneres. DeGeneres gifted Buchanan and Huston tickets to a live taping of the daytime talk show, and added that Buchanan would receive the prizes from the upcoming Mother’s Day show giveaway.

Buchanan spoke of her longtime friendship with Huston and how watching The Ellen Degeneres Show helped her cope with her infertility struggles.

Feeling helpless watching her best friend go through miscarriage after miscarriage, Huston added on the program that she jumped at the opportunity to surrogate for Buchanan.

“The moment that I hand those babies over to Katelin and her husband will be the best moment of my life,” Huston told Degeneres during the live shot. “And then, I’m going to pour myself a big glass of wine.”

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The annual Feel The Heritage Festival, a black history month tradition now in its 26th year, is scheduled for Saturday, February 24.

The county-sponsored festival, held at the Charles Drew Community Center in Nauck, will host its first-ever soul food cook-off, with prizes for category winners. That’s in addition to dozens of vendors, music and dance acts, and fun for the kids.

Emceed by former WPGC 95.5 FM radio host Dr. Justine Love, a range of dance and musical groups will perform throughout the day, including a Joy of Motion dance center youth hip-hop group, and Elijah Jamal Balbed’s Chuck Brown-inspired The Jogo Project. Motown, hip-hop, gospel, and traditional African performers will also take the stage.

Festival organizers are touting dozens of artisan vendors selling jewelry, clothing, and more. Local African-American citizen associations and organizations, such as the Black Heritage Museum, will bring historical artifacts and photos for display in a “hall of history.”

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company’s food truck will be parked outside of the community center, and the Nauck Youth Enterprise will sell hot dogs, half smokes, and more.

There will be plenty for kids to do, from creating a traditional African art inspired animal mask to face painting, balloon art, and oversize games of checkers and Connect Four. Colgate, the toothpaste company, will also be on-site from 2-6 p.m. to conduct free dental screenings and treatment referral for children up to 12 years old.

Photo via Arlington County

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