(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
Making the Case for Amazon in Crystal City — Amazon’s planned second headquarters would find a good home in Crystal City, according to Washingtonian magazine writer Dan Reed. He said the combination of a major airport close by, good transit links from Metro and the fact that it remains “underutilized” after Base Realignment and Closure makes it an attractive option. Reed also suggested Poplar Point on the Anacostia waterfront in D.C. or the Discovery District in College Park, Md. as other places that fit the bill. [Washingtonian]
More Than 40 Drone Flights Detected at Fort Myer — A study to detect unmanned aircraft found that 43 drone flights were picked up over Fort Myer over a 30-day period beginning in August. It is in the middle of a no-drone zone, with flights requiring specific permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. The report suggests the flights could have been from “well-intentioned” tourists at the nearby Arlington National Cemetery and other National Parks. [WTOP]
Leaf Collection Begins Next Week — “The Arlington County government’s vacuum-leaf-collection program is slated to begin November 13 and run through December 22. Each civic-association area is slated to get two passes during the cycle, with signs posted three to seven days before each pass, government officials said. Schedules also will be posted online. Residents wishing leaves to be vacuumed away should place them at the curb by the posted date, but avoid putting them under low-hanging wires or near parked cars.” [Inside NOVA]
APS to Slow Down Planning for Instructional Focus of New High School Seats — Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington School Board agreed to slow down the process of determining an instructional focus for the 500-600 new high school seats at the Education Center until a task force looking at the school’s strategic plan has finished its work. The plan had been for Superintendent Patrick Murphy to bring initial ideas for the site to the Board in December, but staff said slowing down would allow a “big-picture view of all high-school needs in the county.” [Inside NOVA]
Virginia Man Tried to Board Plane With Loaded Gun at Reagan National Airport — A Manassas man tried to board a plane at Reagan National Airport last Thursday with a loaded gun. The Transportation Security Administration detected the 9mm semi-automatic handgun during security checks, confiscated the firearm and cited the man on a weapons charge. It was loaded with seven bullets. [WJLA, WRC]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
A working group will soon begin evaluating the Arlington Career Center and planning for more high school seats there — and even looking into the possibly of a new comprehensive high school on the site.
The Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) is set for a renovation and an addition of 700-800 high school seats in time for 2022. The Arlington School Board voted in June to use it alongside the Education Center to add 1,300 high school seats, in a so-called “hybrid” option.
And according to a draft charge for the Career Center Working Group, it will assess the following as it helps prepare the site for the additional seats:
- Estimate total project cost with low, middle and high cost alternatives within the funding limits approved by the School Board
- A vision and plan for the site that could include further additions and renovations that might develop in phases into a H.S., and that includes Arlington Tech and existing programs. This will be developed through a community engagement process in concert with the County.
- Options for common spaces, including recreational and performance spaces, that might also be shared with the community Draft Charge for CCWG
- Parking requirements including structured parking
- Physical education programs and field space
- Timelines and funding requirements
- Assume current programs continue to exist; provides funds for instructional spaces
- [Patrick Henry Elementary School] must remain an elementary school for the foreseeable future
- APS’s FY2017-26 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) – provides funds for instructional spaces – does not include funds for public spaces available at other high schools
At a meeting tomorrow night (Wednesday) at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street), the county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) and the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) will meet to discuss the plan for the renovated Career Center.
And at that meeting, commission members will look to identify any additional factors that must be weighed, and also ask whether the site should be considered for the proposed fourth comprehensive high school in the county.
When School Board members approved the “hybrid” option, they also directed Superintendent Patrick Murphy to explore “options describing cost, timeline, capacity, location and program for a [fourth] comprehensive high school in the FY 2019-2028 [Capital Improvement Program] process.”
Under a timeline proposed by APS staff, community engagement will begin next month and last through May, after the two commissions review the proposal. In parallel, the working group will do its work, before making a presentation to the School Board in May.
Work to rebuild the Wilson School in Rosslyn could cause some inconveniences for those in the area as crews closed a sidewalk and street near the project.
Due to construction at the school at 1601 Wilson Blvd, 18th Street N. is closed to non-construction traffic between N. Quinn Street and N. Oak Street for the entirety of the project.
And pedestrians walking along that side of Wilson Blvd near the soon-to-be-rebuilt Fire Station 210 and a 7-Eleven convenience store will need to cross over as the sidewalk outside the school is closed too.
Construction on the new $100 million building appears to be underway, with work expected to be done in fall 2019. It will house 775 students from the future H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.
Construction crews have moved in and are well on the way to demolishing the former Wilson School in Rosslyn to make way for the future H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.
As of Thursday, very few walls from the school at 1601 Wilson Blvd were remaining, with piles of rubble, metal and bricks piling up as workers continue to clear the site. Construction on the new $100 million building is set to start later this year.
The new structure is scheduled to open in fall 2019 and house 775 students across both programs. The Stratford Program will have the majority of the space of the lowest level, while H-B Woodlawn will have classrooms on the first through fifth floors. There will be shared spaces throughout the building, with outdoor terraces allowing open space for recreation and learning.
The former Wilson School had been recommended for designation as a historic district, but that request was denied by the Arlington County Board in 2015. Instead, the Board directed Arlington Public Schools to incorporate pieces of the old building into the new school.
Flickr pool photo by Jason OX4
Arlington Public Schools will add 1,300 high school seats across the Education Center and the Career Center after the School Board approved the so-called “hybrid option” at its meeting Thursday.
The option, put forward by Superintendent Patrick Murphy last month, would add 500-600 seats to a renovated Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) by 2022, then add another 700-800 at the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive), which would get a renovation and an addition. The County Board denied a request to designate the Education Center as a historic district last month.
Murphy’s proposal had not been among the original short list of three finalists for the new high school site, but Board members said it would balance the need for more seats with limited building space, and make use of what already exists.
“We cannot allow this Ed Center site to lie fallow,” said Board member Reid Goldstein. “We go to the County Board every year and we tell them we need more: we need more money; we need more land. I’m a taxpayer too. We cannot have a site that could hold students going unused.”
By December, Murphy must also provide a list of recommendations for the Education Center, including its cost, any boundary changes needed and educational programming. He must make similar recommendations for the Career Center no later than May 2018.
In addition to their vote in favor of the plan, Board members directed Murphy to include options for a fourth comprehensive high school, including programming, cost and location, in APS’ 2019-2028 capital budget. Arlington currently has three comprehensive high schools: Washington-Lee, Wakefield and Yorktown.
“It’s not a blank slate,” said Board chair Nancy Van Doren. “We have eight points we want answers to, we have a finite amount of money and we have a vision that says we’re going to need to potentially add onto those and make them into something even greater going forward. So we want to leave our options open, and one thing I think we’ve learned to do is not create buildings that aren’t flexible.”
The Board voted 4-1 in favor of the plan, with James Lander the lone dissenting vote. He said the plan was not the best use of the space at the Career Center, had safety concerns around traffic on S. Walter Reed Drive and worries about locating high school students close to Patrick Henry Elementary School.
“If you know someone with 40 acres in Arlington who is willing to sell to the school system, I would be happy to negotiate that,” Lander said. “Until then, we have to utilize the space effectively that we have now, and we have to think about what our needs could be potentially down the road. I think this site could be better used than just 600 seats.”
The perceived lack of consultation with nearby residents on the new option came in for some criticism during public testimony. Maria “Pete” Durgan, president of the Penrose Neighborhood Association, urged the Board to delay their vote to explore the hybrid model further.
“We feel disappointed in the way the solution came about because we don’t feel like we were presented with the various scenarios and had an opportunity on what would affect us greatly,” she said.
Goldstein raised similar concerns with the way the fourth option came forward, and challenged his colleagues to think about how they continue engaging with the community even as new ideas come forward late in the game.
“How do we do idea changes or option changes in a project like this when there isn’t enough time to extend the community engagement process?” he asked.
Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen said APS intends to get “right back out there” in the fall to begin discussing the new schools, and may look at convening something similar to the South Arlington Working Group that helped site a new elementary school.
“After tonight, we’re proceeding with two projects, and I’m excited about both of them, the Ed Center project, the Career Center site, but it’s no longer a hybrid,” Kanninen said. “These are two projects, just like we have several other projects on the books.”
A plan to designate one of the potential sites for a new public high school as a historic district will be discussed by the County Board tonight (Tuesday).
But the proposal has drawn skepticism from county and Arlington Public Schools staff, who want the Board to deny the request and instead help preserve flexibility for APS as it solves its capacity issues.
The Education Center at 1426 N. Quincy Street is one of three remaining options for the county’s next public high school — not counting a new option involving the center, floated by superintendent Patrick Murphy.
Under the plan for historic designation, the Education Center and the adjacent David M. Brown Planetarium would be saved from possible demolition and subject to a strict design review process for any changes to its exterior.
The request for historic designation came from local resident and Planning Commission member Nancy Iacomini, who described both 1960s-era buildings as “physical embodiments of the forward thinking of Arlington and our County’s hope for the future” in her nominating letter.
Preservation Arlington said in a blog post that the buildings are examples of “New Formalism,” which combined classical and more modern design elements. Both were completed in 1969, after being funded through a 1965 bond referendum.
But in their report on the plan, staff said the Education Center could help address school overcrowding and so designating it would prevent “maximum use (and reuse) of the public facilities we have.”
That is a view echoed by School Board chair Nancy Van Doren, who in a brief letter to County Board chair Jay Fisette expressed the School Board’s opposition to the plan.
“School Board members do not support pursuing historic designation of the building at this time as it would limit options to address the school division’s capacity needs at this site,” Van Doren wrote.
In a previous column, Peter Rousselot argued against the historic designation, and noted that APS is moving its administrative staff out of the building to new offices at Sequoia Plaza 2 on Washington Blvd. The School Board approved the move at its meeting last week.
Staff recommended finding that the site meet some of the criteria for historic designation but that further evaluation be shelved. They also proposed denying the request and collaborating in the future to see how the site can be reused.
Just days after local parents launched a petition favoring building a high school next to Kenmore Middle School, others have begun a petition of their own against the plan.
The petition against the Kenmore plan raises concerns about the impact on traffic on S. Carlin Springs Road, which it says would increase the number of students that attend nearby schools from 2,200 to approximately 3,500.
“Carlin Springs Road is one of the County’s few north/south arterials and a major commuter thoroughfare,” the petition reads. “There is no reasonable alternative to Carlin Springs Road for many people using this route. Adding students would add vehicular traffic in the form of school buses, and cars for students and staff. The increase in traffic and the increase in the number of students crossing Carlin Springs Road will increase the threat of accidents involving students.”
The School Board recently whittled down a list of nine possible sites for the county’s new public high school to three. Under the Kenmore plan the current middle school would remain on the 33-acre campus, and adjacent property would be used to build a new 1,300-seat high school.
The other two options remaining are to develop a ninth-grade academy on the site of the Education Center next to Washington-Lee High School, with the International Baccalaureate program expanded and a World Languages site created, or build at the Arlington Career Center site to co-locate with Arlington Tech.
The petition was also critical of the process to determine the site of the new high school.
“The planning process by the County and the School Board to engage in more proactive planning is appreciated,” it reads, “but it appears that the effort to site the 1,300 [seat] high school seats is short circuiting the process.”
Another School Board work session is scheduled for May 15 at the Education Center, with the Board set to discuss the options and adopt one in June.
Parents and community members are being asked to help choose the name of the new elementary school that’s being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
A naming committee has narrowed down the choices, which included suggestions submitted via an online survey, to five. The finalists, each with an explanation from the naming committee, are below.
- Alice West Fleet Elementary School — “A native Virginian, a granddaughter of slaves, and a long-time Arlington teacher, resident, community activist and leader… she broke down racial barriers, serving as the first black reading teacher in Arlington and the first black teacher to teach in an all-white school in Arlington.”
- Grace Hopper Elementary School — “Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was an acclaimed computer scientist, professor, and long-time Arlington resident… Ms. Hopper was key to the development of COBOL, a computer programming language that helped make coding more accessible.”
- Journey Elementary School — “The new elementary school building is designed with different levels and sections representing different biospheres… The name ‘Journey’ was recommended through the Community Input Form and represents the students’ journey through the building as they explore our diverse world as well as the educational journey that students and their families experience.”
- Liberty Elementary School — “The name ‘Liberty’ is a tribute both to Patrick Henry’s famous ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ speech and to his support of the Bill of Rights. This option represents a name change that maintains a connection to the school’s existing name.”
- Patrick Henry Elementary School — “Patrick Henry Elementary School was given its name in 1925, renaming the original school name, Columbia Elementary School. Patrick Henry was a lawyer, orator, and statesman who served as the first and sixth governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was also a slave owner.”
The new school is expected to open in September 2019. Students and staff will be moving from the existing Patrick Henry Elementary, near the Columbia Pike Branch Library, to the new school.
The naming committee says it received input on both sides of the debate over the current school’s name.
The committee heard compelling arguments both for keeping and for changing the name of the school. Some felt that keeping the name would provide continuity and maintain a connection to the school’s history, while continuing to honor one of our nation’s founding fathers. Others thought that the school name should be changed in order to avoid confusion between the new and existing school, or to reflect the creative design of the new building. Some also felt that Patrick Henry’s name should no longer be used since he owned slaves.
The committee says it received more than 500 survey responses via its online form. Among the serious suggestions were at least a few from pranksters, we’re told; other name suggestions included Howard Stern Elementary and Pokemon Elementary.
This time around, the committee is hoping to only receive input from Patrick Henry Elementary and Jefferson Middle School parents, students, staff and nearby neighbors.
A proposal to build a high school next to Kenmore Middle School appears to have garnered some support among local parents.
The School Board recently whittled down a list of nine possible sites for the county’s new public high school to three. Under the Kenmore plan the current middle school would remain on the 33 acre campus, and adjacent property would be used to build a new high school.
A petition in support of the Kenmore plan — and against expanding Washington-Lee High School — has garnered more than 100 signatures.
“This would be a smaller high school initially but would have the potential to become a 4th comprehensive high school if a new middle school building can be built elsewhere in the near future,” the petition says. “School start times could be staggered, and officials have recognized the need to improve access to the campus to relieve traffic.”
(Currently, the county has three comprehensive high schools: Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield.)
Of the other two options remaining, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said a ninth-grade academy would be developed on the site of the Education Center next to Washington-Lee, with the International Baccalaureate program expanded and a World Languages site created.
That, says petition supporters, would make W-L far too large of a school.
“Students would share common spaces and fields with students already at W-L,” says the petition. “This would place 3,500 to 4,000 high school students in one location.”
The third option is to build at the Arlington Career Center, expanding Arlington Tech and allowing for the repurposing of the Education Center. Supporters of the Kenmore option say the plan to build at the Career Center would force that to be a choice program, something that has come in for criticism online given Arlington Public Schools’ enrollment growth.
“Choice schools were great when the schools were under-enrolled and kids had a decent chance of getting into them,” wrote one commenter on a message board for local moms. “Now getting into a choice school is like a Golden Ticket while everyone else is crammed into high schools that are getting too big and you don’t know the people in your class. We can’t afford to spend $100 million on choice schools like HB [Woodlawn] while the rest of the peasants make do in trailers smuched [sic] together at other high schools.”
“[The] Kenmore option is the only option that establishes a solid pathway to a 4th comprehensive high school, which the APS system desperately needs,” the petition says.
Earlier this week, the Yorktown PTA hosted a town hall with Board members Barbara Kanninen and Reid Goldstein. Another School Board work session is scheduled for May 15 at the Career Center, with the Board set to discuss the options and adopt one in June.
Photo via Google Maps
New Elementary School Approved — After a years-long process that included neighborhood opposition and lots of community discussion, the Arlington County Board has approved a use permit and ground lease for a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson middle school and community center site. [Arlington County]
Rosslyn Farmers Market Approved — Also at its Saturday meeting, the County Board gave the go-ahead to a new FreshFarm Markets-operated farmers market that will be held at the new Central Place public plaza in Rosslyn. The market will be open on Wednesday evenings from April to November. [Arlington County]
Bebe Closing at Pentagon City Mall — The Bebe store at the Pentagon City mall will close by the end of May. It’s part of a larger restructuring for the struggling young women’s clothing retailer. [Patch]
County Board to Honor Trees — “Arlington has about 755,400 trees of at least 122 species that provide $6.89 million in environmental benefits to the County annually in pollution removal, carbon storage, energy savings and avoided stormwater runoff. The Arlington County Board will honor 10 of these trees as Notable Trees at the April 25 County Board Meeting.” [Arlington County]
Blue Virginia’s School Board Endorsement — Local Democratic blog Blue Virginia has endorsed Monique O’Grady in the race for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board. The endorsement cites incumbent James Lander’s recent controversial remarks about a murder victim as a reason for not endorsing him. [Blue Virginia]
Flickr pool photo by Ameschen
And then there were three. The list of nine possible sites for Arlington County’s new public high school has been whittled down to three finalists.
At a work session last night, the School Board weighed constructing a 1,300-seat high school at the sites of Kenmore Middle School, the Arlington Career Center and the APS Education Center. The new school is expected to open at one of these locations in September 2022.
The options have been narrowed based on staff analyses of the pros and cons each site presents, along with feedback from the Facilities Advisory Council and the community.
The Board still must determine whether the school would be a specialized choice school, like Arlington Tech or H-B Woodlawn, or a community high school like Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown. The information gathered thus far from surveyed community members indicates that 44 percent favor a neighborhood school and 56 percent favor a specialized school.
Board member Tannia Talento brought up the importance of further examining the impact of traffic, parking and walkability at each site. She said that parking needs and traffic for extracurricular activities and special events come into play in addition to the daily school needs.
“How is it impacting the neighborhood? These things will come into play when we’re adding 1,300 seats at a site like the Ed Center or Kenmore,” she said.
School Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen questioned the feasibility of renovating or expanding any of the proposed sites rather than starting from scratch with building. That potentially could accelerate the project for completion before 2022. Regarding school overcrowding, “We really know we hit trouble in 2021,” she said.
Board chairwoman Nancy Van Doren echoed Kanninen’s sentiment about site renovation or expansion, adding that such an option could provide cost savings, perhaps even through a phased plan for adding seats over time.
“I would like to perhaps consider a hybrid option,” Van Doren said. “One of my personal criteria is cost and making sure we have enough money to build all the seats we need going forward. So if there are ways that we can provide additions or renovations at a lower cost than the total amount of money that we have currently allocated, then I’d be very interested in that.”
Site analyses will continue through mid-May, and final recommendations are expected at the Board’s May 15 work session. Final site approval is anticipated for June. Until that time, staff will continue to engage the community about the three high school site options, including through feedback received via the “Engage with APS” website.
“This is about our kids and about our families and it is emotional,” Van Doren said.
The new elementary school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road would provide 752 seats and replace the current Patrick Henry Elementary School at 701 S. Highland Street. A naming process for the new school is underway. It is projected to cost $59 million and to open in September 2019.
But a report prepared by county staff acknowledges the project still has concerns, including theater parking during construction, the impact on homes at the north side of the site, whether an existing surface parking lot should remain and neighbors’ desire for sidewalk improvements in an area outside of the project’s scope.
As part of the approval process, the County Board will also discuss leasing county-owned land at the site to the School Board so the new school can be built.
If the County Board allows the lease to be executed, Arlington Public Schools would then have the right to use the land to build the new elementary school and a 214-space, joint-use parking garage. The lease would be set to expire in 75 years, in 2092.
A report by county staff found that executing the lease would not impact the county financially, but an agreement will be necessary to solidify how the county and APS will share the parking garage’s operating and maintenance expenses.
Staff recommends approval of the use permit for the new school and the execution of the lease.