Arlington Dems Reject Bipartisan Redistricting — “Despite criticism from within the party that the move would be seen as blatantly partisan as well as bad policy, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s membership on Aug. 6 voted to oppose the state constitutional amendment that, if enacted, would set up an independent redistricting commission.” [InsideNova]
Marymount Announces Reorganization — “In its latest strategic initiative, Transform MU, Marymount University is restructuring its existing academic programs into three highly focused Colleges, each combining disciplines to create broader educational and research opportunities.” [Press Release]
Diocese Announces New Virtual School — “The Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced it will offer a fully virtual school for grades K-8 in the 2020-2021 academic year, which begins in early September. The school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, provides a new option to parents interested in enrolling their children in local Catholic schools. All 41 brick-and-mortar Catholic schools in the Diocese, which serve 17,000 students, have announced they will reopen in the fall for either safe-distance full-time in-person instruction or a combination of in-person instruction and e-Learning. St. Isidore offers families an option for full-time virtual learning.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]
Local Teen Raises Money for Yemen — “Since July 1, an Arlington teenager has raised $300 for Saba Relief. The organization helps people affected by the crisis in Yemen. Emily Tesone started hand sewing plushies for her friends when the pandemic began. Her hobby grew more meaningful after she learned about what was happening in Yemen.” [WDVM]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
Over forty trees are planned to be removed to make way for a new elementary school in Westover, but Arlington Public Schools is hosting one last meeting about potential tree-saving solutions before construction starts.
A discussion is scheduled with neighbors on Monday (Sept. 16) at the edge of the grove will involve discussion of whether any of the trees can be saved. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the basketball court on the Reed site (1644 N. McKinley Road).
The current plans call for the removal of roughly 42 trees to facilitate construction that will add to the building that houses the Westover Library and, soon, a new neighborhood elementary school.
Residents have expressed concerns about the removal of the grove, which includes a variety of maple, cedar and mulberry trees. A presentation on the project noted that an inventory of the trees was prepared by a certified arborist and tree removal was recommended.
According to the presentation:
Decisions on tree removal balanced: Building location and required excavation, site improvements (play areas, universally accessible walkways, etc.) and underground utilities (sanitary, storm, geothermal, etc.).
The designs for the site include adding 82 replacement trees, well above the 49 trees required to be planted according to county regulations.
But the plans have drawn some criticism from neighbors and local environmentalists. County Board candidate Audrey Clement specifically addressed the County Board’s approval of the project for its destruction of the trees at a debate this past Monday (Sept. 9). Many of the trees are larger, like a silver maple tree 4.5 feet wide.
At the meeting next Monday, the presentation says neighbors will be invited to discuss the removal with an arborist and county staff.
But any moving of the remaining trees will have to occur quickly: construction of the new school is scheduled to start by the end of September.
“Stormwater structures and basins are much enhanced from what exists on-site now as per current state stormwater requirements,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
Map via Arlington Public Schools
The school year for Arlington Public Schools starts up again on Tuesday (Sept. 3), and there are a variety of traffic changes around the county for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to be aware of.
There are several new traffic patterns around new and newly-repurposed schools. At Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Cherrydale, there are new traffic signals and signs, crosswalks and crossing guards near the school at 4100 Vacation Lane. At The Heights Building on Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, students will be arriving at buses on 18th Street N., which will be closed to the public The Montessori Public School of Arlington on S. Highland Street is now a countywide school, meaning more buses will be at the school.
Drew Elementary School and the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School are both neighborhood schools now, meaning pedestrians and cyclists to the school are more likely.
According to the press release, drivers across the county should remember to:
- Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
- Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
- Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
- Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers. Violations could result in a fine of $250.
- On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
- On a multi-lane paved road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
- On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bust must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
- Have all vehicle occupants wear their seatbelts.
- Pick-up and drop-off students in designated kiss and ride locations.
Pedestrians are reminded to only cross the street at the crosswalk and follow the instructions of crossing guards.
Bicyclists ages 14 and under are required to wear helmets, while helmets are recommended for everyone. Cyclists should keep to the right and ride with traffic, then to lock up the bicycle when not in use.
New school enrollment projections have reignited the long-dormant debate over the wisdom of building a fourth comprehensive high school in Arlington, as officials plot out the best strategy to educate a student population that won’t stop growing.
The issue reemerged in earnest late last month, when Arlington Public Schools planners unveiled some startling new data that could upend the School Board’s long-term construction plans.
It was not exactly breaking news when planners revealed that the school system’s enrollment is projected to grow by about 24 percent over the next 10 years. APS has added an average of 800 students annually for the last five years, after all.
But school leaders were a bit surprised to see that growth continuing apace, after initially expecting the number of students flowing into the county start falling through 2028, not rising. Even more notably, the new projections show about 2,778 additional elementary schoolers set to enroll in Arlington schools over the next 10 years, about 1,000 more than school planners projected just a year ago.
Considering how young those students are, that number could demand a major reexamination of the school system’s plans to add new high school seats.
The Board decided back in 2017 to build room for 1,300 high schoolers split between the Arlington Education Center and the Arlington Career Center, avoiding the expensive and difficult task of finding space for a fourth comprehensive high school in the county. But these new projections have some Board members wondering if that will be enough to meet these enrollment pressures.
“One of the bottom lines of this is that the 1,300 high school seats is not enough,” Board member Barbara Kanninen said at the group’s Jan. 24 meeting. “This looks, to me, like we’re really going to need that full, comprehensive high school after our Career Center project. And, to me, that means we need to start thinking about what that package of high school seats is really going to look like.”
New County Board member Matt de Ferranti also raised some eyebrows by suggesting in his introductory remarks on Jan. 2 that the county should fund a new high school, but not all of Arlington’s elected leaders are similarly convinced.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy urged the Board to “take a breath, look at this one year, and see if these patterns begin to play themselves out over a long period of time,” and some members agreed with a more cautious approach to the new projections.
“APS enrollment is growing faster than the available funds we have to address our growth, for operating needs (teachers, textbooks, buses) as well as for capital projects (building and expanding schools),” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “It’s important to remember that student enrollment and projections are just a snapshot of one major factor. That’s why we will continue to emphasize flexibility in our planning so we can be responsive and adaptable to address our future community and operating landscape.”
But, for some parents who have long demanded a new comprehensive high school in the county — joining Wakefield, Yorktown and the newly renamed Washington-Liberty — the new projections only underscore the urgency of what they’ve been asking for this whole time.
“I think the data have been suggestive for quite some time that Arlington will need a fourth high school, and it seems to make the most economic sense to do that project all at once and not in pieces,” Christine Brittle, a market researcher and APS parent who has long been active on school issues, told ARLnow via email.
But Brittle did add that it was “surprising” that Kanninen sees a need for a new high school even after the Career Center project is finished.
It remains an open question just how the Career Center will look once the school system can add 1,050 new seats there, work that is currently set to wrap up by 2025 or so. As part of deliberations over its latest 10-year construction plan last year, the Board agreed to build some of the same amenities at Arlington’s other schools at the Career Center.
But the county’s financial challenges meant that the Board couldn’t find the cash to build all of the features to make the Career Center entirely equivalent to a comprehensive high school, and a working group convened to study the issue urged the Board to open it as an “option school” instead of requiring students in the area to attend a school without the same amenities as others elsewhere around the county.
Accordingly, Brittle would rather see the Board simply expand its plans for the site instead of setting out to build a whole new school.
“I’m actually agnostic about whether the Career Center is the correct location for a [fourth high school], so perhaps APS is going to revisit that decision in light of these new projections,” Brittle said. “However, assuming they are going forward with the Career Center project, it certainly makes the most sense to do that project now as a full, fourth high school.”
Such a switch would come with its own complications — as the school system’s Montessori program leaves Drew Model School, it’s currently set to move into the old Patrick Henry Elementary, which sits next to the Career Center. Any move to transform the site would likely require finding a different home for the Montessori students instead, at least in the long term.
“It would be far cheaper to find some additional, offsite-but-nearby field space, add a pool to the already robust Career Center plans, and find another building to repurpose for elementary Montessori, rather than building a large choice high school, which they may or may not fill, and then having to turn around and build a fourth comprehensive high school elsewhere (with money Arlington does not have),” Megan Haydasz, an APS parent who’s advocated for more amenities at the Career Center, told ARLnow via email.
However, Kristi Sawert, the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and a member of the Career Center working group, pointed out that APS is already pretty far down the path when it comes to moving the Montessori program to the Henry building. The Board recently agreed to reprogram hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the building to prepare for the Montessori students’ arrival, which she sees as an admission that “APS has no plans to tear it down to create a full-scale fourth high school (especially given that APS has a huge money deficit).”
“But I could be wrong,” she wrote in an email.
Still, that sort of option may well be on the table. Some Board members saw a need for more high school seats, but they didn’t share the same conviction that a fourth comprehensive school is the only way to achieve that goal.
“We’re going to have to put [these students] in a high school,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren. “1,300, 1,400 seats, that’s not enough, and we don’t have a school for all those kids in the [Capital Improvement Plan].”
Yet part of what drove Kanninen’s conviction that APS needs both new seats at the Career Center and a new high school is her belief that the county’s 10-year enrollment projections don’t tell the whole story.
Many of the new students planners expect to see in the coming years are young enough that they won’t be reaching high school by the time 2028 rolls around, convincing Kanninen that the data don’t paint a full picture of the school system’s in the distant future.
“The future kindergarteners you’re projecting won’t be in high school in 10 years, it’ll be 20 years,” Kanninen told APS staff at the Jan. 24 meeting. “We’re not seeing in this projection how many high school seats we are going to need… We need another high school down the road. We really need to clarify that story, and it’s really clear from this data in a way it never has been before.”
New Elementary School at Reed Site Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a new elementary school for up to 732 students at the Reed site, 1644 N. McKinley Road, in the Westover neighborhood. The Board voted unanimously to approve a use permit amendment for Arlington Public Schools to renovate and expand the existing Reed School/Westover Library to create a neighborhood elementary school.” [Arlington County]
Here’s Where Amazon is Coming, Exactly — Amazon will be leasing office space at three JBG Smith buildings in Crystal City: 241 18th Street S., 1800 S. Bell Street and 1770 Crystal Drive. Amazon also agreed to buy two JBG-owned land parcels in Pentagon City that are approved for development: PenPlace and the remaining portion of Metropolitan Park. [Washington Business Journal]
County Board Discusses Legislative Priorities — “A highlight of the County’s package is a call for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that was proposed by Congress in 1972. Both the Arlington League of Women Voters, and the Arlington Civic Federation have called on the General Assembly to ratify the ERA.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Projects Win at NAIOP Awards — Nine of the 29 real estate development projects lauded at the Best of NAIOP Northern Virginia Awards on Nov. 15 were Arlington projects. [NAIOP]
Neighborhood Conservation Projects Funded — “The Arlington County Board today approved $2.9 million in Neighborhood Conservation bond funds for projects in Cherrydale and Arlington Forest… The $1.84 million Cherrydale project will improve N. Monroe Street, between 17th Street North and 19th Street North… The $1.08 million Arlington Forest project will make improvements to Edison Park.” [Arlington County]
How DIRT Chose Ballston — “DIRT co-founders @jlatulip and @jamcdaniel visited many parts of D.C. and the greater DMV area before deciding to open in Ballston. ‘We noticed very quickly that this was a special community, one that we could call home and grow with. We love the energy of the neighborhood — Ballston is a young, active community, which fits DIRT perfectly.'” [Instagram]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Construction could soon get started on the new elementary school planned for the Reed School site in Westover, as the project looks set to earn the county’s approval this weekend.
The County Board is set to vote Saturday (Nov. 17) on a few zoning and easement tweaks for the property, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road. Arlington Public Schools is hoping to open the building in time for the 2021-2022 school year, and it will serve at least 732 students in all.
The school system’s plans call for the demolition of part of the existing school on the site, in order to allow for the construction of a new “two and four story school building, containing approximately 112,919 square feet, on the northeast side of the existing building,” according to a staff report prepared for the Board.
The School Board signed off on designs for the $55 million project back in August, and the plans have since earned the endorsement of the Planning Commission as well.
The lone change county planners are recommending is an alteration of a walking path to connect the school to Washington Blvd.
Originally, the path would run through an existing parking lot, up a small slope. But the slope was large enough to prompt some concerns about its accessibility for pedestrians with disabilities.
Accordingly, planners are recommending an alternative design to run the path parallel to the parking lot instead. To do so, the school system will have to cut back on nine parking spaces in the lot (bringing its total down to 133 spaces) in order to keep costs for the project down, a key concern for the School Board.
Both county staff and planners are recommending that the County Board adopt these plans, including the path alteration.
Family Surprised to Learn Pet Was a Snapping Turtle — “An Arlington family took in a box turtle to be the new family pet recently — only to find out that it was actually a snapping turtle. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington tweeted out a photo of the turtle, noting that their officers had seized the turtle from the unwitting family.” [Patch, Twitter]
APS Delays Release of Construction Cost Report — “Arlington residents will have to wait a little longer for an analysis of the reasons behind the high costs of school construction in the county. The audit committees of the County Board and School Board had been slated to meet Aug. 7 in a joint session to discuss a report by school-system auditor John Mickevice on school-construction costs. That meeting, however, was called off.” [InsideNova]
TSA Keeps Finding Guns in Carry-ons at DCA — Earlier this month, in two separate incidents, TSA agents at Reagan National Airport seized loaded handguns from two men trying to carry them onto planes. The guns were the seventh and eighth seized at the airport so far this year. The men are now facing weapons charges. [Patch]
Jail Holds Creative Writing Contest — A 26-year-old man who’s in jail on a heroin possession charge won the Arlington County lockup’s first-ever creative writing contest yesterday. His prize-winning poem, in part: “I dream about the future. I dream about the past. I dream about the mountains. I dream about the sea. I dream of all the places that I would rather be.” [NBC Washington]
InsideNova Not Available in Europe — More than 1,000 U.S. news websites are blocking users from Europe after the EU implemented strict new privacy regulations known as GDPR on May 25. Among the sites that are no longer accessible from Europe, as seen in this screen shot from last month: InsideNova, which publishes articles from the Arlington Sun Gazette newspaper. [Nieman Journalism Lab]
Plans for a new elementary school on the Reed School property in Westover are coming into focus.
The School Board got its first look at new design renderings for the building Tuesday (July 17), which is set to open in time for the 2021 school year and serve at least 725 students in all.
The $55 million project will involve the construction of a four-story structure alongside the existing Reed building, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road, and the renovation of the rest of the old building. Ultimately, the school will have 32 classrooms, 133 parking spaces and several new athletic fields and playgrounds for students.
Wyck Knox, a principal with the design firm VMDO Architects, told the Board that his team is also working to working to make classrooms in the building “adaptable.” Should school leaders ultimately want to open up more common space for group lessons, he says designers are “working really hard to keep columns and pipes out of the walls, so you can take those walls down” if need be.
Knox added that designers envision a fully accessible walkway stretching around the perimeter of the school, and he even plans to include space for an “outdoor classroom” alongside the building’s new fields and playgrounds.
But throughout all of the planning process, Knox stressed that the school’s designers have examined “cost control measures,” considering that the project’s price tag has been a subject of some controversy in the past, and the cost of all school construction in the county is a frequent sore spot for Arlington officials.
Cost estimates for the Reed project remain about $5.5 million higher than the $49.5 million in bond funding the school system secured for the effort. The county and Arlington Public Schools are planning to split the burden for that remaining amount, though designers are still hoping to bring the cost down to the original figure, as the School Board asked this spring.
Ben Burgin, the school system’s assistant director of design and construction, assured the Board that the remaining design work would involve the additional study of costs of things like emergency electrical systems, roofing or site amenities. He ultimately hopes to “deliver a new cost estimate by the fall.
The school system will ultimately need a use permit from the County Board before proceeding with construction, which they’re aiming to request in time for the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting.
But first, the School Board will need to sign off on the updated designs for the school, and will likely do so at its Aug. 2 meeting. The Board was broadly pleased with the newest sketches laid out, though Chair Reid Goldstein did reiterate his interest in seeing costs come down, considering the school system’s construction funding squeeze.
Audrey Clement, a frequent independent candidate for public office who is challenging Board member Barbara Kanninen this fall, wasn’t so optimistic.
“It will force 9- and 10-year-olds to march up three flights of stairs several times a day,” Clement told the Board. “While this scheme furthers APS’ commitment to a more-car diet, it will impose physical hardship on students and drive up costs.”
In related news, The Children’s School, a co-op daycare for the kids of APS employees displaced by the Reed school redevelopment, earned county approval Tuesday to build a new facility at the site of the old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway.
(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.
The Arlington School Board viewed the proposed concept design for a new elementary school in Westover last week.
With a desired opening date of September 2021, the 725-seat elementary school at the Reed School site has a total project cost estimate of $55.1 million, which is about $6 million more than what was approved by the School Board on June 16, 2016.
A chart underlining funding sources noted that the $6 million extra would come from a “to be determined” source, though staff requested that cost cutting measures be explored to bring the cost back down to the initial $49 million. Construction funding for the elementary school is set to be put to a bond referendum for voters in November.
The existing structure, according to a School Board document, is “appropriate for early childhood program” but has several issues to be addressed, including an “inefficient layout,” “visibility/security,” and the fact that it is “space constrained for older students.”
The “recommended scheme” allows for the lowest total energy use per square foot, classroom transition times, required parking, and loss of open space, and “keeps the most site amenities.” Downsides to the concept design, noted officials, included “minor utility relocation” and constructing a “four-story building next to a two-story building and homes.”
The project will expand the existing Reed School, at 1644 N. McKinley Road, that currently houses The Children’s School, the Westover Branch Library, and the Integration Station, a pre-K student program for those with disabilities.
Voting Now Underway — Voters in Virginia have started heading to the polls to vote in a number of local and statewide races, including the competitive, nationally-significant race for governor. In Arlington, races for County Board, School Board and the House of Delegates are on the ballot. [WAMU, InsideNova]
Arlington Man Loses 45 Lbs Hiking — An Arlington accountant, 27, took 5.5 months off of work to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. He lost 45 lbs in the process and was the subject of a magazine feature. [Washingtonian, People]
APS Pumps Brakes on Focus of New High School — “Arlington school officials are slowing down the process of determining an instructional focus of the planned mini-high school adjacent to Washington-Lee High School even as they move forward with repurposing the existing Arlington Education Center building to serve a student body expected to total between 500 to 600 students.” [InsideNova]
Props for Arlington’s Pet Decision — Arlington’s recent ban on “wild and exotic pets” struck the right balance between resident safety and pet owner rights, writes an Arlington pet advocate and a longtime pet care professional. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone