Arlington, VA

(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) A project that could help the Westover area with its flooding problem is on the Arlington County Board agenda this weekend.

The Board on Saturday is slated to consider an agreement with Arlington Public Schools to build a stormwater detention vault under the athletic fields of the Reed Elementary School site in Westover.

The project is part of the county’s Flood Resilient Arlington stormwater strategy, which was created in response to significant floods that affected the Westover neighborhood in July 2019. The project is not expected to impact the planned opening of the new school, at 1644 N. McKinley Road, in August 2021.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that the project maximizes public land for the benefit of the community.

“The Westover Commercial District is a vital component of the economic, cultural and social core of the neighborhood, and it has suffered repeated flooding losses from increasingly volatile storms,” Garvey said in a statement. “This type of investment is part of a larger effort to achieve a Flood Resilient Arlington in a time of climate change.  It will help prevent further devastation and enhance public safety when major rain events occur.”

The school is located in the Torreyson Run watershed, which is one of five Arlington watersheds singled out for improvements.

The project includes designing and building a large underground vault that will “form a cornerstone to a watershed-scale solution in the Torreyson Run watershed,” according to Arlington County.

The work will be broken up into two phases.

Phase 1 of the project consists of new underground pipe and junction fixtures and is funded by the County and will cost $1.54M,” the county said in a press release. “Phase 2 includes the stormwater detention structure itself and is still under design. Both phase 1 and phase 2 are specifically being designed and scheduled to not impact school opening or operations.”

The preliminary cost estimate for both phases is between $14.1M – $16.0M for design and construction,” the press release adds. “The length of construction will be determined during the design process.”

Arlington voters approved a $50.4 million stormwater bond last month, which will be used to pay for the second phase.

APS Superintendent Francisco Durán told Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz in a letter that time is of the essence in approving the agreement to reimburse APS for the project upon completion.

“In order for the work of Phase 1 to be completed in time for the school to open as scheduled, this funding agreement is required promptly,” Durán wrote. “Our APS team, APS consultants and County staff have been working diligently to find the best way to achieve the County’s stormwater storage goals and open the new school on schedule.”

The County is working with APS on a Memorandum of Agreement for the school system’s construction contractor, and plans a public engagement effort with impacted communities about the design of the vault early next year.

Image via APS

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(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) About 1,400 elementary students would be reassigned to new school buildings next fall, according to a proposed change in boundaries that Arlington Public Schools released Monday evening.

The boundary proposal follows an elementary school building swap approved by the School Board in February, to account for the new Reed School building in Westover coming online and the former home of the Key Spanish immersion program near Courthouse being converted to a neighborhood school.

The proposal includes new neighborhood boundaries around Arlington Science Focus School.

The boundary changes are part of the school system’s effort to prepare for an estimated 30,000 students in 2021, including a surge in new students near the Courthouse neighborhood.

APS is looking to redraw the boundaries of most, if not all, of its 24 elementary schools in the near future to address a growing imbalance between where enrollment is increasing and where there is spare school capacity, while taking equity and walkability into consideration.

APS redrew boundaries for some elementary schools in 2018, and before that in 2015 and 2013 — all were, to some degree, contentious processes.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the latest boundary proposal on Dec. 3.

The 1,400 students — 13% of K-5 neighborhood school students — would be reassigned from Ashlawn, ASFS, Glebe, Long Branch, McKinley, Taylor and Tuckahoe schools, APS said.

“Our long-term priority is to address capacity needs informed by a plan that puts equity and instruction front and center, and that ensures we consider the overall needs of our students and school division rather than focus on an individual school, department or topic,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a statement.

He added that the district must make this change “as we move from being a system of schools to a school system.”

APS had planned to address boundaries for most elementary schools in 2020, but the pandemic disrupted education and strained families to the point that Durán decided to keep students together as much as possible.

The new boundary change approach keeps more students at their current schools and adds 800 students to school walk zones, reducing the need for busing at a time when only 11 students can ride each bus at a time. One downside: there will be an increased need for portable classroom trailers.

APS says it will continue to plan for increased school capacity where enrollment is spiking, particularly at the western end of Columbia Pike, with the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 Capital Improvement Plan.

Virtual community meetings on the boundary proposal will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) and next Wednesday, Oct. 14. Community members can provide input this fall through a community questionnaire, available through Oct. 20.

APS staff will present the superintendent’s final proposal to the School Board on Nov. 5, and will hold a public hearing on Dec. 1, before adoption on Dec. 3.

More from an APS press release, below.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson is recommending an elementary school swap involving four schools, a more modest of two proposals presented in October.

Both proposals have received considerable pushback from parents, but in a presentation to the Arlington School Board last night administrators said it’s the best option for dealing with projected increased in enrollment in certain parts of the county.

“As we look at our projections and we look at the growth that’s coming along,” a school staffer said, “the area where we see the biggest growth is on the eastern side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.”

The recommended proposal would make the following changes, starting with the 2021-22 school year:

  • Move most McKinley Elementary students, plus most faculty and the principal, to the new school under construction at the Reed site in Westover.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) — a “choice” school — to the larger McKinley building.
  • Move students, faculty and the principal of Key Elementary, a bilingual English/Spanish immersion program, to the current ATS building.
  • Make the current Key building a new neighborhood elementary school, to support growth in the area.

Administrators say moving Key to the ATS building would put it closer to more Spanish speakers and “allow for long-term growth in the program.”

A number of parents from each of the potentially affected school spoke out against the swap at the School Board meeting, for a variety of reasons, following the presentation.

The presentation also included discussion of an “alternate scenario,” that would change elementary school boundaries rather than swap schools. The decidedly unpalatable alternative called for about 4,000 students — 38% of the elementary population — to be assigned to a new school. On top of that, it would require more busing.

“To fill schools to manageable capacity, boundaries would require more students to be assigned to schools farther away instead schools closer to where they live,” the superintendent’s presentation said.

Next up in the process, the School Board is expected to hold a public hearing before taking action on the proposal in February.

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(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools may shuffle nearly a quarter of its elementary school students around to combat the county’s persistent overcrowding problems.

During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, school officials proposed moving the majority of McKinley Elementary School students to the new Reed Elementary School, among other switches.

The Arlington School Board is expected to take action on one of two final proposals during its meeting on February 6, 2020. If approved, it would take effect for the 2021-22 school year, per APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

“Some of our schools can’t manage the student’s lunch time, we have students who eat lunch as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 2 p.m.,” said Lisa Stengle, executive director for the APS Department of Planning and Evaluation.

“We like to keep kids together. The more we can keep groups of kids together, the better,” she said.

The first proposal idea APS shared with parents would mean:

  • The majority of current McKinley students would move to Reed.
  • The Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program would move to the McKinley building.
  • Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School building.
  • The Key building would become a neighborhood school.

According to officials, 40% of McKinley students live in the Reed School walk zone, meaning more students who are currently riding the bus would have the option to walk to school. In addition, it would provide 100 additional seats for new ATS students.

The second proposal calls for the same McKinley, Reed, and ATS switches, plus:

  • Campbell Elementary School moving to the ATS building
  • Key, along with its immersion program, would move to the Carlin Springs Elementary School building
  • The majority of students at Carlin Springs would move to the Campbell Elementary School building
  • Campbell building becomes a neighborhood school
  • The Key building becomes a neighborhood school

Both plans are expected to affect some 20-30% of Arlington elementary school students.

“[Moving schools allows] APS to use all schools to maximum capacity, keep together as many students in each school community as possible, and keep as many students as possible walking to their neighborhood schools,” officials said in a press release.

The proposals are a larger part of the APS Elementary School Planning Project, which calls for the planning of capacity solutions as Arlington’s elementary student population is expected to exceed 30,000 by 2023 — with significant growth in the Rosslyn, Ballston, and Columbia Pike areas.

The fiscal impact of either proposal remains to be determined, according to APS Transportation Planning Director Kristen Haldeman.

Alternatively, per the planning website, if APS chooses to only redraw elementary school zoning districts without moving schools, it would affect up to 41 percent of Arlington’s elementary school population and incur additional transportation costs.

In addition, Spengle noted the county will need to build up to three new elementary schools by 2029 in order to accommodate growth, including in and around Pentagon City.

The school system will spend the next several months collecting community feedback before the School Board makes a final decision, with public meetings on:

  • November 5: An online information session on APS Engage in English and Spanish
  • November 5-24: An online community questionnaire at APS Engage
  • November 15 and 22: “Friday Facebook Live” sessions with new FAQs answered.

Several community forums are also scheduled for December, plus a School Board public hearing on January 30 at 7 p.m. in the Syphax Education Center.

The discussions come after APS redrew the boundaries of eight elementary schools last year in order to accommodate the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School.

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