After being closed for nearly three years, the planetarium adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School is wishing upon a star that it will reopen later this fall.
It was back in November 2019 when the David M. Brown Planetarium on N. Quincy Street closed to allow for the overhaul of the adjacent Arlington Education Center at Washington-Liberty. It took longer than expected due to the pandemic, but that $38 million project is basically complete.
With that done, the planetarium is reopening as well with a few notable changes including a new person in charge, a state-of-the-art projector, and the removal of a mural.
The aim is to start running programs again by early November, Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium President Jennifer Lynn Bartlett told ARLnow.
The non-profit is the “booster club” for the planetarium, as Bartlett described it, while APS owns the facility and provides a large chunk of its funding.
While staff and students all missed the planetarium, the three-year closure and the adjacent building’s makeover allowed for much-needed updates, as well as staffing changes.
Earlier this summer, Arlington Public Schools hired Mary Clendenning as the school system’s new full-time planetarium specialist. For those who were regulars at the planetarium, she may be familiar, having presented weekend programming for several years prior to the closing. She also has more than two decades of experience in the classroom teaching science.
“I am thrilled to be Arlington’s new Planetarium Specialist!” she wrote in August’s Friends of Planetarium newsletter. “This new position offers me the opportunity to combine my passions while using a state-of-the-art projection system, the Digistar 7. I am so excited about being part of the reopening of an Arlington treasure, the Planetarium.”
The new projector system that Clendenning mentioned is set to be the star of the show.
When the planetarium first opened more than five decades ago, it had a mechanical optical system — essentially a ball that projected stars, ran patterns of the night sky, and faded lights to simulate the sun’s journey.
Then, in 2012, a new digital system replaced the old one. But like any computer, a system that’s a decade old is out of date.
“The technology is changing so rapidly that to continue to offer state-of-the-art programming, we need to move to more current hardware,” said Bartlett. “We want to continue to offer programs that are being written now about science that’s happening now.”
Bartlett said the new projection system will allow educators to put on programs beyond astronomy, including lessons on oceanography, earth science, and biology.
The new projection system, like nearly all tech these days, needs an internet connection so the planetarium now has Wi-Fi.
Another thing that planetarium goers will notice when they visit later this year is a missing mural.
In the process of connecting some ductwork to the HVAC system of the newly-renovated W-L annex, it was discovered that the exterior shell of the planetarium and portions of the interior entrance hallway contained asbestos. APS decided to remove the asbestos inside and, because of that, it required the removal of a mural that featured planets, the Milky Way solar system, and other galactic images that Bartlett believed were painted sometime in the 1980s.
The $38 million transformation of the Washington-Liberty annex is nearly complete.
Over the last three years, the nearly six-decade-old Arlington Education Center has undergone a complete overhaul to turn it into classrooms and school space for the burgeoning student body. This is the most significant renovation in the history of the building, which was completed in 1969 and previously used as the Arlington Public Schools headquarters. (The APS administrative offices are now located at Sequoia Plaza.)
We received an exclusive tour yesterday of the newly updated facility that is now updated classrooms, breakout areas, science labs, art studios, weight rooms, offices, and flex space. The project reached substantial completion back in June. With school less than two weeks away, it’s now all touch-ups, paneling, and inspections.
The annex is expected to open to students when the new school year starts later this month.
The goal of the project, APS’s director of design and construction Jeff Chambers told ARLnow while walking through the still-pristine hallways, was to turn an under-used office building into usable, updated school space.
“With this building, it’s set up so that it can be used for any type of classroom or for any grade,” Chambers said. “It’s going to be used by Washington-Liberty students when it opens, but it can be converted to be used for anything. The whole intent is that all of the classrooms can be modified and used for whatever program absolutely needs them.”
The five-floor, 55,000-square-foot facility can accommodate between 500 and 600 students. The building is shaped like a “quarter of a donut,” as described by project manager Robin Hodges, which allows nearly all of the classrooms a view of the outside while also facing inward towards the common areas.
Each level, with the exception of the ground floor, is similar in set-up, with the elevators moved back, large windows, and a common area with seating and furniture. The building’s footprint wasn’t expanded, though it might look that way.
“The ambient light into the classrooms and spaces has really made a huge improvement, opened up the building a lot more,” said Hodges. “Everyone that used to be here before and now walks the halls ask, ‘Did you make it bigger?’ No. We just have more daylight in the building.”
Chambers compared the old building’s lack of sunlight and darkness, particularly in the bathrooms, to walking into a famed Arlington landmark.
“It was like walking into The Broiler on Columbia [Pike] and you’re looking for your steak and cheese,” he said laughing, noting that they did a simulation of the sun’s movement and added window frits to help diffuse sunlight throughout the building.
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.
A Rosslyn-based online interior design startup is celebrating one year and more than 100 projects.
Deazly, launched in July 2021, brings professional design to homeowners in an online design studio. The company matches homeowners looking to renovate their kitchen or bathrooms with professional designers, who work with them to create 3D concepts of the space for a flat fee.
Homeowners can then see how their room will look before committing to a project.
“For most homeowners, hiring an interior designer can feel intimidating,” CEO and Founder Ketan Doiphode, a licensed architect, said in a news release. “It is a difficult process to navigate.”
So, he said he built Deazly to bridge the knowledge gap on the homeowner side and technological gap on the design side. His goal is to provide affordable, hassle-free design services. And for designers, it’s an opportunity to work 100% remotely.
Deazly clients tend to be 30 to 45 years old, tech-savvy and want good design completed at a fast pace, Doiphode said. And 60% of the company’s work comes directly from contractor partners and remodeling companies, the release said.
Contractors have a competitive advantage by having a design partner.
“The Deazly process provides the consultation needed to work through style preferences and functional requirements,” Doiphode said. “Highly realistic 3D designs and a product list ensure the homeowner and contractor can work together to make the design of these high-use spaces a reality.”
While there are other e-design businesses, Deazly specializes in kitchens and bathrooms — both generally complex renovation projects that greatly contribute to resale value of homes. When the startup first launched, it offered just bathroom design but in January, the company added kitchen design services, as well.
Deazly’s flat fee structure, listed on its website as a range between $700 to $2,300 based on the extent of services, is something the company says sets it apart from traditional designers’ fees.
The Deazly team has seven U.S.-based interior designers and eight support team members in India, the release said.
“I see Deazly as an example of the modern workforce,” says Doiphode. “Designers often work long hours at firms and the conceptual, more creative part of the design process is led by directors and principals. At Deazly, the designers are involved in the visual and creative aspects. The 100% virtual team structure allows designers to create a flexible schedule. I can match homeowners with the right designer based on the designer’s availability.”
Doiphode was inspired to start the company from his 18 years of architecture and project management experience. He worked for the brand design team at Marriott International, where he worked on lifestyle brands that included Delta Hotels, Sheraton, Marriott Hotels, Aloft, and AC hotels. He has also worked as an interior architect for the firms SOM and Forrest Perkins.
Doiphode hopes to grow the Deazly design team and is working on a new version of the website that will add detailed project milestones and a two-way communication platform for homeowners’ remodeling and renovation process.
A contract that’s part of a $1.9 million project to renovate “the courtroom of the future” is set to go before the Arlington County Board.
The Board plans to vote on Saturday (July 16) on an $890,000 construction contract to upgrade Arlington General District Court Courtroom 10B with technology updates and layout improvements. If approved, the contract will go to Michigan-based construction company Sorensen Gross.
Arlington courtrooms haven’t had a major renovation since 1994, according to a report to the County Board.
“Significant technology development has introduced new forms of evidence, including recordings from police body-worn cameras and smartphone cameras,” the report says. “Additional courtroom technology is needed to show this evidence to only the required participants. This technology prototype will address these issues and provide a more flexible setting for future expansion/modification to the system.”
The construction project is set to include renovations such as raising the floor to make routing cables easier, new video monitors and sound systems that coordinate microphones and integrate translation capabilities. By adding a new “technology backbone,” the county aims to give “more direct control of multimedia presentations,” according to the report.
The spectator area, jury box and witness stand are also set for changes, according to a Q&A document with prospective vendors. The changes will comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and improve the layout for judges, witnesses and clerks, according to the report.
The total budget for the project is around $1.9 million, which was included in the county’s adopted fiscal year 2022-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. In addition to the construction contract, the total cost reflects around $370,000 in design and administrative costs and $250,000 in contingency costs.
Construction is currently expected to start in early August and should be mostly complete by July of next year, according to the Q&A document.
Photo via Google Maps
Ballston Beaver Pond is in need of a new name because, well, there are no more beavers.
Residents are asked to suggest names for the pond that either “reflect a park’s unique character and features” or one that “honors someone who made a significant and positive impact to Arlington County,” the survey says. Prior to the renovation, the pond was home to a variety of wildlife, including beavers. But the county is installing beaver baffles to discourage them from returning and building dams again.
The survey says residents will also be able to weigh in on a list of potential park names, compiled at least in part from the survey, in June. Aileen Winquist, the communication manager for the renovation project, said the final name is set to be presented to the Arlington County Board in September.
Renovations at the Ballston pond, which include converting it from a dry pond to a wetland, are paused because of a delay in the delivery of a concrete block that will be installed in the upper part of the pond, according to the project’s website. Winquist said the block is expected to arrive in mid-June.
“That’s kind of the last grading work that will need to be done,” she said. Much of the excavation and grading work was completed in April.
“The contractor has made excellent progress so far and the project is on schedule,” she said. The renovations are expected to wrap up in July 2023.
After installing the concrete block, which Winquist said would be a settling area for sediment and trash from water coming into the pond, renovations will continue with building viewing platforms and planting vegetation.
“The remaining work will be to install the platform — there’s a viewing platform on the east side of the pond — and then to do all the planting,” she said, adding “thousands of plants will be planted in the pond.”
The renovation process faced a series of interruptions before it began in December 2021. The project was planned, but in a holding pattern, between 2013 and 2019. It went into hiatus soon after the redesigned project went public in 2019 due to “COVID-19 and related budget concerns,” according to a county report in June 2021.
The current renovation project is a “high-priority project” in the county’s Stormwater Management Program and “contributes to restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” according to the project’s website.
Other renovation measures listed include constructing turtle basking stations and other wildlife components, planting wetland vegetation, and removing invasive species. The design plan for the project also includes spaces for a shrub wetland and a marsh.
The pond was initially built as a dry pond, which she said meant stormwater runoff from I-66 would temporarily sit in the pond area. That changed after the beavers arrived and built their dams. The renovations, meanwhile, aim to convert the pond into a wetland.
“The pond will have a lot of flow channels for the water to flow through, and as it’s filtered through the wetland plants and soils, that will remove pollutants from the stormwater runoff,” Winquist said.
The Arlington County Board is likely to vote this weekend on providing another $140,000 to fix the Gunston sports “bubble” due to issues related to the soil beneath the structure.
Renovations started last year on the Gunston Bubble, the covered, all-season county synthetic athletic field at Gunston Park behind the middle school of the same name. The two-decade-old bubble had reached “the end of its useful lifespan,” reads a county report, and needed to “be constantly monitored and inflated.”
During the summer, the bubble would sometimes get overly hot while, in the winter, snow would build up on top. Both situations were considered hazardous enough that the bubble would have to close on numerous occasions.
Work on the bubble began last year with the renovation project calling for a new frame-supported fabric structure that would make the bubble functional in any weather. Plus, ceiling fans, vents, and LED light fixtures will make it more “more energy efficient and reliable.”
The project was initially set to cost $867,000 and be completed in the second quarter of this year.
But issues arose almost immediately after work began in January, notes a County Board agenda report, due to the soil.
“Upon commencement of the work, the Contractor encountered unsuitable soil conditions that were not known at the time of design and need to be remediated, for proper installation of the building footings. Based on recommendations from the County third-party Geotechnical Contractor, Hillis Carnes, a series of additional undercuts are required to remove the unsuitable soil and bring in new material for the base foundation. This work is critical to ensure the structural stability of the new fabric structure.”
To complete the needed work, contractors IMEC Group, LLC are requesting an additional $140,000.
At the meeting this Saturday, the County Board is likely to vote on if it will allow for an amendment to the original contract that authorizes this extra money.
County officials that if the $140,000 is approved, the Gunston Bubble renovations should be completed later this year.
“We are excited to be updating the Gunston Bubble so that it will be able to support our community year-round with a strong frame structure to keep it open in the winter, and enhanced ventilation to make it more comfortable in the summer,” a county spokesperson tells ARLnow. “We noticed issues in the soil in January and are mitigating the issues. The work will cost us a bit more than expected and will delay the project. We should have it all ready no later than early fall or sooner. When complete this will be a much better indoor experience than before.”
The bubble isn’t the only thing at Gunston Middle School that is set to being renovated. Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board approved $1.6 million in safety upgrades to the entrance of the school. The work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street. That project is expected to start in June and be complete by mid-August, right before the start of the new school year.
The $15.5 million renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Green Valley is nearly complete, poised to open to the public in the middle of next month.
The renovations included adding more than two acres, updating and moving the playground, rebuilding the restrooms, renovating the picnic shelter, relocating and modernizing the baseball fields, and commissioning a site specific work of public art.
Last week, ARLnow got an exclusive tour of the park, which is in the midst of getting final landscaping and aesthetic touches.
The new, re-designed playground is now closer to S. Four Mile Run Drive to make it more “visible and accessible” to the community. It’s ADA accessible with age separated areas and state-of-the-art safety features, like poured-in-place rubber. The look is “heavily inspired by the industrial character of the area,” says landscape architect and county project manager Jeremy Smith, with lots of exposed wood and bolts.
The new all-gender restrooms, now a county-wide ordinance for all county facilities, have also been rebuilt and relocated closer to the front of the park due to safety reasons. The bathrooms are designed to be open year-round and will be open from sunrise to the park closes at 11 p.m.
The two baseball diamonds, one for youth leagues and the other for adult softball, are now moved further away from Four Mile Run. Previously, the diamonds were in the floodplain, so the move is to help mitigate flooding and over saturation. The diamonds are also now equipped with more efficient LED lights that will “focus the light on the fields and not the neighborhoods,” Smith tells ARLnow. First priority for field use are for scheduled and permitted activities.
If the fields are not scheduled, they are available for drop-in and free use.
The two fields have also been renamed after long-time community activists. Ernest Johnson was the leader of one of Arlington’s first African American Cub Scout Packs while Robert Winkler was a long-time employee of the county’s parks and recreations department. He was also a youth coach who helped provide financial support to local athletes.
To celebrate the park’s long history of baseball, the diamonds will display pennants of historic Green Valley teams that played on the fields in the mid-20th century. The pennants were being designed in collaboration with the Green Valley Civic Association but, as of last week, had not yet been installed.
Near the baseball diamonds is a history walk, with plaques embedded in the ground displaying some of the significant moments in the park’s and Green Valley’s history.
There’s also new public art. Wheelhouse, a green stainless steel multi-sectioned pavilion, “explores the industrial history of the Jennie Dean Park site through the lens of the great American pastime — baseball,” according the county website.
The design is supposed to look like a mill that once stood in this location in the early 18th century, as well as the heart of a homeplate’s strike zone that is often called a batter’s wheelhouse. It was designed by artist Mark Reigelman with community input and was budgeted at $200,000.
Historically, the school has kept a menagerie of animals for students interested in pursuing careers in animal care and veterinary science, including a miniature horse, goats, cats, dogs, turtles and birds. Today, the program serves about 120 students.
Since the deaths of “Rocket” in 2021 and the miniature horse “Snickers” in 2020, however, Arlington Public Schools administrators have denied requests to adopt new large animals.
APS says this is because it is updating the Animal Science program as part of the planned renovations to the Career Center. Farm animals will no longer figure into the program because they are not required to teach the four courses that will be offered: Small Animal Care I and II and Veterinary Science I and II.
“We are in the planning process to modernize the Small Animal Science and Veterinary Science lab to ensure the lab mirrors local industry facilities,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement. “Students will continue to learn about and care for small animals in a modern lab that reflects industry-based standards and practices.”
The new space will feature improved work areas for students and staff and better housing, grooming stations and exam areas for animals, he said.
But students are petitioning APS and pleading with the School Board to keep large animals. A petition that started last year has regained steam and, as of this morning, has just shy of 2,600 signatures.
“The lack of farm animals would take away the experience that students would need to prepare them for going into college,” writes Washington-Liberty High School student Ellen Boling in the petition. “It could also lower the interest of incoming students in the course, which would result in fewer people to care for the animals.”
W-L senior Sean Bender-Prouty told the School Board in the fall that farm animals are critical for college readiness. He said the future Career Center redevelopment plans are hurting the students currently in the program.
“The potential loss of that space in the future is being used to deny students access to large animals now,” he said during the Oct. 14 meeting. “If you decide to redevelop the site and take away our green space, students may be permanently denied the opportunity to gain necessary experience with large animals.”
Bender-Prouty’s prediction has been a few years in the making. Officials have mulled ending the large animal component of the program since 2019, when it moved eight trailers onto the animals’ grazing space to accommodate an influx of students. This prompted APS to “reimagine that program for a more urban setting,” Bellavia said at the time.
The decision mystifies Animal Science instructor Scott Lockhart, who says large animals gain students entry to a job sector that is booming, given the shortage of large animal vets in the U.S.
“The number of jobs and pathways is being reduced tremendously,” Lockhart tells ARLnow. “We’ve always taken a wide view of animal sciences and now we’re reducing that to small animal care. It does have an impact on students and what we’re trying to prepare them for.”
(Updated at 3 p.m.) A half-dozen Arlington fire stations will be upgraded to accommodate more firefighters.
The renovations will give firefighters and EMTs at Fire Stations 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 more space and amenities to use while they’re at the station.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved the $1.4 million project, which responds to a recent change to the Arlington County Fire Department’s schedule that required the department to hire more staff.
Last month, the county officially implemented the “Kelly Day,” an extra 24-hour shift off every 28 days, which reduces a firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours per week. The day helps reduce absenteeism, exposure to hazardous and stressful conditions, and overtime, while improving work-life balance, recruitment and retention, according to the county.
“[The] implementation of the Kelly Day [is] the result of committed funding across multiple years and dedicated advocacy on behalf of our firefighters to modernize the schedule of the Arlington fire service to improve their balance and quality of life to make ACFD more competitive across the region,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said on Saturday. “We’re really excited to see the Kelly Day implemented as a way of thanking and respecting our firefighters as the professionals they’ve been, especially our firefighter EMTs, who’ve worked so hard during the pandemic.”
The Kelly Day provides our members with a reduction in overall hours worked, from a 56 hour work week to a 50 hour week. The ACFD is extremely grateful to the Arlington County Board and County Manager for their continued support.
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) January 19, 2022
Kelly Day planning began in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and the county began funding additional firefighter positions in the 2019 fiscal year, ACFD spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner tells ARLnow. Between then and the official implementation on Jan. 16 of this year, the department hired 39 firefighter EMTs.
Those 39 firefighters will need additional personnel lockers for their gear, uniforms and street clothing, he said. Other upgrades include expanded refrigeration and storage spaces in the kitchen, additional bathrooms and showers, stackable washer-dryer units to increase laundry capacity and expanded and improved gym areas.
Only Fire Station 4 will require additional locker space after these renovations are complete, says Hiner.
Fire Station 10 in Rosslyn, which was finished last summer, has the additional amenities, as will the new Fire Station 8 in the Halls Hill neighborhood once it’s complete about two years from now, he said. The old Fire Station 8 is currently being torn down and crews are operating from a temporary station.
Also related to firefighters, the County Board approved a deadline extension in its civic code giving new labor unions — authorized last year — more time to get through the necessary procedures to officially form as collective bargaining units. Firefighters were concerned that the delayed hire of a labor relations administrator would put off compensation negotiations another year.
Alcova Heights Park is going to get a face lift.
The county is gearing up to award a $2.8 million contract to upgrade a number of facilities in the heavily used 13-acre park on S. George Mason Drive, a few blocks north of Columbia Pike.
Over the course of the renovations, most amenities will be replaced, some new features built, site circulation improved and more greenery planted to address stormwater management.
These changes aim to address complaints residents had about the park back in 2018, including: poor drainage; unsafe crossing conditions at 8th Street S., which bisects the park; the lack of a bridge over Doctors Run, which flows through the park; and old picnic shelters and bathrooms.
The renovations — expected to begin this spring and take about one year — include:
- a new large picnic shelter and site furnishings
- an improved fire pit area
- a new sand volleyball court
- new stairway entrances to the park at the north and south ends from S. George Mason Drive
- an improved sidewalk and pedestrian crossing at 8th Street S.
- a new lighted basketball court
- new restrooms
- tree and shrub plantings to improve drainage
- improvements to site circulation
Arlington Palooza, an annual event held at Alcova Heights Park that made its debut in 2017, will be relocating for this year due to the work.
“The playground and diamond field are not part of the project and will remain open during construction,” a county report said.
These two park amenities will be replaced as part of a yet unfunded second phase, which will also see the construction of a pedestrian bridge.
Phase 2 can be considered in an upcoming Capital Improvement Plan, according to the county. A timeline for these upgrades has yet to be determined.
The county has budgeted $4 million for all the renovations.
The public process for the project kicked off in 2018. Initially, the county planned to begin renovations in 2020 and finish in 2021. The County Board is now set to consider the construction contract at its meeting this coming Saturday.
New Organ Debuts Tomorrow — “The new organ [at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Square] cost $1.2 million… Opus 28 arrived in Arlington on Oct. 3, 2021. For three weeks, Pasi put together the 500,000 parts that constitute it. He spent the next two months ‘voicing’ the organ: doing the painstaking adjustments necessary to make everything sound just right.” [Washington Post]
Reminder: Pizza Boxes Can Be Composted — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “There’s No ‘I’ in Food Scraps: Arlington viewers of ‘The Big Game’ can give 110% and go all in in the green curbside cart: pizza crusts and boxes, wing bones and greasy napkins. You won’t be denied.” [Twitter]
County Helping With Museum Renovations — “As efforts begin to renovate its museum, the Arlington Historical Society is working to embrace close collaboration where possible with the Arlington County government. Whether that will turn into a financial partnership remains to be seen, but county staff will be providing their knowledge to help the renovation move ahead.” [Sun Gazette]
Public Defender Pay Bill Fails — “A measure to equalize pay between staff of Virginia prosecutors and those working in public-defender’s offices died in a House of Delegates subcommittee. The measure, patroned by Del. Alfsono Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax), would have required localities that supplement the compensation of staff in its office of commonwealth’s attorney beyond state minimums to do the same for staff of a public defender’s office, if a locality has one.” [Sun Gazette]
Nearby: Scammers Impersonating Police — “Officers have received reports from community members who stated that callers contact them claiming to be members of a police department or sheriff’s department. The law enforcement impersonator may… tell the community member they missed a court appearance or jury duty [and] state they need to send money or a warrant will be issued for their arrest or they may turn themselves in to jail.” [City of Falls Church]
Snow Possible This Weekend — “Light to moderate snow could fall in the D.C. area on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’s still not clear whether it will snow hard enough or be cold enough for it to amount to much and have serious effects on the region.” [Capital Weather Gang]
It’s Thursday — Sunny, with a high near 55 today, and wind gusts as high as 21 mph. Sunrise at 7:04 a.m. and sunset at 5:40 p.m. Sunny again tomorrow, with a high near 57 and wind gusts as high as 22 mph. [Weather.gov]