The number of PreK-12 students enrolled in Arlington Public Schools is expected to surpass 30,000 in 2022 after steadily rising for years, according to APS in its newly released enrollment report.
School officials say 25,238 students were enrolled as of Sept. 30, 2015, the first time since 1969 that APS has reached the 25,000 student milestone. By 2017, the school projects 27,491 students will have enrolled, an increase of 4.5 percent over the previous year. And steady growth continues from there: The school says its student body will grow by at least 2.5 percent until the 2021-2022 school year, when it’s expected to surpass 30,700 students.
According to APS, the total number of enrolled students “has risen at an unprecedented high growth pattern since 2008.” Since fall 2005, the number of students has grown by more than 6,800 students, an increase of about 37 percent.
Growth will likely slow to 1.7 percent by 2023 and continue to wane thereafter, APS adds. By 2026, the school’s student body is projected to grow only by 0.6 percent and reach an enrollment total of 32,807.
Overall, the school expects to add nearly 7,600 students between now and 2026.
Though all other alternative projections put the school over 30,000 students by 2024 at the latest, APS says it’s possible that the number of enrolled students could shrink instead of grow by that time. One projection says the school could lose 1,181 students between 2021 and 2025. But the school cautions that such alternative projections “are not statistical confidence limits, but instead represent judgments made by planning staff as to reasonable upper and lower bounds.”
Among the factors used to project school enrollment was historic birth rates in Arlington County, which are used to project the number of future incoming kindergarten students.
An average of 2,800 live births per year were recorded in Arlington between 2004 to 2008. Between 2009 and 2013, a period APS refers to as “the wave,” about 3,100 births on average were recorded each year. As children born during “the wave” grow up, they’re expected to crowd schools as they advance through elementary, middle and high school.
In response, APS has in the past undertaken several actions to mitigate school crowding, like hiring 387 new teachers last summer and utilizing trailer classrooms.
Among the steps being taken by APS to add more capacity for the growing student body are adding an elementary school at the Thomas Jefferson Middle School site, expanding Abingdon Elementary in Fairlington and building the new Stratford Middle School while moving the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program to Rosslyn.
Graphs via APS Enrollment Report
Working group chairman Greg Greeley presented the latest analysis to the County Board and Arlington School Board during a joint working session yesterday (Thursday). Arlington Public Schools is aiming to open a new school by 2019 in order to handle a 925 seat deficit.
The working group analyzed about 20 different locations, included those owned solely by Arlington Public Schools, solely by the county, jointly by APS and the County and privately owned. From there, the group narrowed it down to three finalists: Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Gunston Middle School/Oakridge Elementary School and Drew Model Elementary School.
With each site, the working group looked out how the new elementary school would fit on the property. Of the three sites, the working group preferred the Thomas Jefferson site.
In January, the County Board scuttled the school system’s plan to build an elementary school on the TJ site, following vocal protests from residents concerns about the impact to adjacent parkland.
County Board member John Vihstadt echoed those concerns, and brought up a proposal that he said could preserve the parkland while still getting the school built nearby.
Vihstadt introduced a letter from Snell Properties, which owns the Dominion Arms complex at 333 S. Glebe Road, offering APS land for a school free of charge, in exchange for the ability to build a new development with more density.
The Sun Gazette has more about the proposal and the mixed reaction to it.
“Without getting into the pros and cons, the merits and demerits of this potential new location, I, for one, am certainly interested in the pursuit of looking at this, completely scouring the pros and cons of whether this is an option or not. We are making a decision for 50 years,” Vihstadt said.
At the time of the working session between the two boards, not all members had read the letter, including School Board Chair Emma Violand-Sánchez and Superintendent Patrick Murphy, who voiced concerns about the potential for delaying the opening of a new school past 2019.
“Some of the concerns I think is we have a process in place and we have to respect the process. The South Arlington working group has done a fabulous job, and I would hate to see something new come into play and derail and delay given the 2019 timeline,” Murphy said.
Vihstadt asked the working group and School Board about possible alternatives to find at least 725 new seats, a request made previously by the County Board in January.
The School Board looked at additions to Barcroft and other elementary schools but they would not add enough seats, said Violand-Sánchez. School Board member Abby Raphael also raised concerns over the costs of additions versus a new school.
“Clearly additions are not as cost effective as a new school. Given the limited funding that we have for capital. I would be very surprised if we had to go back to what we called plan B,” Raphael said. “And I kind of find it inconceivable that we’re not going to reach agreement on a new site for a school in south Arlington. We have to. We have to the seats in the fall of 2019.”
A full report from the working group on potential South Arlington school sites is due to the County Board in November.
School Growth Slowing? — Arlington Public Schools has released its official Sept. 30 school enrollment figure. The school system has 25,238 students enrolled, according to the count. That’s some 400 students lower than estimates and represents “the lowest year-over-year increase since 2010.” [InsideNova]
Man Dies at Arlington County Jail — A man with a history of medical problems was found unresponsive in his jail cell at the Arlington County Detention Facility Sunday morning. He was later pronounced dead at Virginia Hospital Center. The man’s family is seeking answers as to how he died. It’s the second inmate death at the jail this year. [WUSA 9]
Rollover Wreck on Route 50 — An SUV rolled onto its roof during a crash on westbound Route 50 near Courthouse on Saturday night. No injuries were reported. [Twitter]
Columbus Day Closures — As a reminder, courts, the Sheriff’s Office, the DMV and Arlington Public Schools will be closed today in observance of the Columbus Day holiday. Arlington County government offices, however, will remain open. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Board Candidates Debate, Find Agreement — Updated at 12:30 p.m. — The four candidates for Arlington County Board participated in a candidates forum organized by the Arlington Forest Civic Association last night. The candidates found agreement on two notable issue: affordable housing shouldn’t be built on parkland — or, at least, certain parkland — and county property taxes shouldn’t be raised at this time. [Washington Post]
JPod Meeting on the Pike — The man behind a proposal to bring a monorail-like pod transportation system to Columbia Pike made his case to residents and to County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada at the Walter Reed Community Center last night. There are still several potential deal-breaking questions about the feasibility of the proposal. [InsideNova]
Teachers Training on Digital Devices — Arlington Public Schools continues to train teachers and educate parents about the use of digital devices like iPads and MacBooks in schools. APS is continuing its rollout of “personalized” devices, with the goal of each student having their own device. [Arlington Public Schools]
Exercise Helped Real-World Response at VHC — Arlington County says that an emergency response exercise at Virginia Hospital Center two years ago greatly helped the real-world response to a fire at the hospital last week. Evacuations of patients went smoothly and no one was hurt. [Arlington County]
GOP Presidential Candidate in Arlington Today — Long-shot Republican presidential candidate and former New York governor George Pataki will be speaking at George Mason University’s Arlington campus this afternoon. The speech on domestic and foreign policy is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at GMU’s Founders Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive).
Another South Arlington School Site Identified — A county working group is continuing its effort to identify a preferred site for a new elementary school in South Arlington, to be built by 2019, but in the meantime the group has identified a potential future school site. The South Arlington Working Group says a school could be built by 2024 on parcels of land that currently include the Aurora Hills Community Center, Virginia Highlands Park and a portion of the RiverHouse apartment complex. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The addition includes 12 classrooms, as well as a new gymnasium, entrance plaza and outdoor instructional area. With this, the total building capacity will be brought from 589 to 725 students. The school’s enrollment is currently 630 students, with some of the excess student population served by four classroom trailers, according to a press release.
There will be a new bus loop and changes to the site’s existing parking configuration. The Board approved also approved a use permit that will allow school staff to park at the nearby Farlington Villages Community Center.
The approved plan includes extensive stormwater runoff management, which is aimed to reduce impact on the school’s neighbors. The existing building requires major building system upgrades, as well, including an updated HVAC system, electrical and plumbing improvements and new interior furnishings.
“This expansion breathes new life into an elementary school that opened its doors in Fairlington in 1950,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “Back then, Abingdon helped relieve overcrowding at Fairlington Elementary. Now, so many decades later, we are partnering with Arlington Public Schools to expand Abingdon to once again serve burgeoning enrollment in this part of the County. There has been robust community conversation about this latest expansion of Abingdon. When completed in 2017, it will serve the community well for years to come.”
The school’s expansion comes as part of the School Board’s FY2015-FY 2024 Capital Improvement Plan, which was adopted in 2014. The plan includes funding for over 1,000 elementary school seats, including the 136 seats that will be added at Abingdon, as well as others at McKinley Elementary School, and a new elementary school to be determined in South Arlington by FY 2019, in order to accommodate increased enrollment.
Abingdon Elementary was completed in 1950 and expanded in 1964, 1970 and 1990. The public review for the addition has taken place over the last 11 months, and included review by the Public Facilities Review Committee (PFRC), Environmental and Energy Conservation Commission (E2C2), Transportation Commission, and Planning Commission.
Not all neighbors support the plan, however. Some have expressed concerns about the loss of trees and potential for noisy construction traffic as a result of the project.
Arlington’s PreK-12 student population has risen by more than 3,000 since the start of school in 2013. At the beginning of this school year, APS counted 25,307 enrolled students.
APS’ PreK-12 student enrollment was 25,307 at the beginning of the school year, up from 23,179 at the time last year, according to figures cited by Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy at a School Board meeting last week.
The official fall enrollment numbers, however, are not counted until Sept. 30. APS is projecting 25,678 students as of Sept. 30, up 4.7 percent from the 24,529 enrolled on Sept. 30, 2014.
APS had 2,636 teachers employed on the first day of school this year, up from 2,493 last year. APS said it hired 387 new teachers over the summer, to keep up with enrollment and teacher retirements.
Meanwhile, APS continues to utilize trailer classrooms to accommodate the additional students, while planning and building new schools and additions to existing schools. The new Discovery Elementary next to Williamsburg Middle School opened its doors to students for the first time last week.
Next Monday, the Arlington County Board is expected to vote on use permits that would allow a 30,000 square foot addition to Abingdon Elementary School, in Fairlington. The addition, which is expected to cost up to $29 million, would provide space for an additional 136 students, bringing enrollment capacity to 725 from 589.
Some Fairlington residents, however, have expressed opposition to the plan.
“The plan is extend the school toward a steep hill that is home to fox, deer [and] raccoons which means knocking down 125 trees (77 of which they say are dead — which is also home to the aforementioned),” one resident said in an email to ARLnow.com over the weekend.
A community meeting on the plan is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. tonight, at the school.
Arlington County is considering a local historic designation for the former Stratford Junior High School on Vacation Lane, causing some parents to worry that preservation efforts may mean more school overcrowding.
With the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program set to move from the Stratford building to a new building in Rosslyn, Arlington Public Schools is planning a $29.2 million renovation of Stratford that would allow it to house a new 1,000-seat neighborhood middle school. Both schools are set to open in 2019.
Tomorrow night, however, the county’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board will hold the first of six public hearings on whether to recommend designating Stratford, which was built in 1950, a local historic district. It’s already on the National Register of Historic Places as a result of its role in the civil rights movement: in 1959 Stratford became the first public secondary school in Virginia to be racially integrated.
“A local historic designation will provide a framework for preserving and telling the important story of this building and site while allowing plans for a separate new school to be designed and built,” the group Preservation Arlington said in support of the designation. “Stratford Junior High School is an incredible part of Arlington’s history… as well as an excellent example of International Style school architecture.”
Parents worry that a historic designation could push back the opening of the new middle school beyond 2019.
The Jamestown Elementary PTA, which last year decried APS delaying a decision on a new middle school, says a middle school at Stratford is key to alleviating overcrowding at Williamsburg and Swanson middle schools. The PTA asked parents to make their voice heard at meetings this week.
“Right now the Arlington County Board is considering turning Stratford into a historical property, which would likely delay the opening of Stratford as a neighborhood middle school,” the PTA said in an email to parents. “That delay will impact all of the surrounding middle schools leaving the overcrowding issue as one that will remain for much longer.”
At a meeting at Williamsburg Middle School last night, parents were told that the school may need up to 28 relocatable classroom trailers by 2018. The trailers could ultimately hold the school’s entire 6th grade class, school administrators said.
Another APS meeting on middle school capacity issues will be held Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. at Swanson Middle School. The historical review board will meet at the County Board room (2100 Clarendon Blvd) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Memorial Day Closures — Arlington County government offices, courts, schools, and community centers will be closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. Arlington’s public indoor pools will be open, trash and recycling will be collected and ART buses will operate on a holiday schedule. [Arlington County]
Flags In at Arlington National Cemetery — More than 1,000 soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard, placed small American flags in front some 275,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. The annual ceremony, known as “Flags In,” has been taking place before Memorial Day for more than 60 years. [U.S. Army]
Arlington Man Convicted of Sexual Abuse — Arlington resident Gary Hankins, a 45-year-old former licensed clinical social worker, has been convicted of sexually abusing a 17-year-old patient. The boy’s parents first contacted authorities after they discovered sexually suggestive texts from Hankins on his phone. [NBC Washington]
Candidates Bash Board’s Reevesland Vote — The Democratic candidates for County Board are criticizing the County Board’s vote this week to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse. At a debate lacking one candidate — School Board Chair James Lander, who had a School Board meeting — candidates took turns bashing the decision, calling it “shameful,” “bad business” and “beneath Arlington.” [InsideNova, Washington Post]
APS to Discuss Swanson, Williamsburg Plans — Next month Arlington Public Schools will hold public forums to discuss “interim options” for addressing capacity issues at Swanson and Williamsburg Middle Schools. “These interim solution options include the use of both on-site or off-site locations to house some portion of the school populations, the possibility of some interior redesign, the use of relocatables as part of the solution, and changes in scheduling,” APS said in a press release. [Arlington Public Schools]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
The land was owned by Bill Buck, founder of Buck & Associates and Arlington real estate mainstay, who agreed to let the county pay for the land in stages: $1.2 million at the close of the sale, $1.8 million in 2016 and $27 million by November 20, 2017, after the county undergoes a revision to the Capital Improvements Program.
The County Board approved the purchase 5-0.
“This is a rare opportunity for the county to acquire a significant piece of property in North Arlington that is zoned for light industrial use, at a time when our community is struggling to find public land to accommodate our many facilities’ needs,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a press release.
“We are thrilled that Bill Buck, whose family has played such an important role in the development of Arlington, has agreed to give us this purchase option. Over the next two years, we will be having a conversation with the community about the best uses for this site, using the criterion and process being developed by our Community Facilities Study effort.”
In the announcement, the county said it has no specific plans for the site yet, but all but 1.35 acres of it is zoned as light industrial. That zoning allows the county to decide which of its chief land priorities — school buildings, a new transportation storage facility and open space — it wishes to devote the new land to.
Currently, Nova MMA/Crossfit Arlington occupies the westernmost building on the land, where it moved in 11 months ago after it was forced to move from its first location in Courthouse. It had previously stood next to Wilson Tavern, where a Hyatt House hotel expects to open next year.
The Board can opt out of the purchase before November 2017. The first payment was funded through CIP 2014 bond money. The land will be rolled into the ongoing Community Facilities Study, after which time the county will involve Arlington Public Schools — which just announced a plan to put 71 new trailers at elementary and middle schools by 2020 — in discussions on the site.
“Although funding for this purchase is not in the current CIP, sometimes you have to act when opportunities arise,” Hynes said in the release. “For many years, community members have suggested that this property should be in the public realm. We are delighted that after complex negotiations, we are able today to achieve that goal.”
This is the biggest county land acquisition since it acquired 7.1 acres for Long Bridge Park in 2011, in an exchange for additional zoning from a developer. The 1.35-acres not zoned for industrial use are zoned for residential, which allows building streets, sidewalks, trails and recreational facilities.
Wounded Marine’s Golf Clubs Stolen — Retired Marine Lt. Col. Justin Constantine had a couple of his beloved, custom-made golf clubs stolen from Arlington’s Army Navy Country Club after accidentally leaving them at the driving range. Constantine was shot in the face by a sniper in Iraq in 2006. So far, one of the clubs has been returned while two remain missing. [Marine Corps Times]
Video: iPads in Use at APS — Arlington Public Schools has posted a new “#digitalAPS” video that shows iPads in use in a middle school science class. [Arlington Public Schools]
APS Community Engagement Juggling Act — Arlington Public Schools is planning a community engagement blitz as it seeks to keep up with rapidly rising school enrollment by building new schools. This comes in the wake of the County Board putting the brakes on a plan, unpopular with some residents, to build new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. APS is trying to juggle getting community consensus with the need to build new capacity quickly. [InsideNova]
Dremo’s Owner Dreams Up ‘BeerDisneyLand’ — The owner of the late, lamented Dr. Dremo’s in Rosslyn is proposing to build a two-acre “BeerDisneyLand” on D.C.’s Anacostia River waterfront near Navy Yard. [Hill Now]
Flickr pool by Kevin Wolf
County Board Mulls Temporary Space for Schools — Arlington County Board members say they’re considering a request by the School Board to consider providing temporary spaces that can ease the school capacity crunch. [InsideNova]
Parking Appeal Change Approved — The Arlington County Board has approved a change to the appeals process for certain parking citations. Whereas previously only certain tickets issued by police officers were allowed to be appealed administratively, the Board on Saturday approved giving the County Manager the authority to set up a more streamlined administrative appeal process for a broader range of parking citations. [Arlington County]
New Bus Route Exceeds Expectations — The Metroway bus rapid transit route that runs from the Braddock Road Metro station to Crystal City is exceeding Metro’s early ridership projections. Already, the route is averaging 1,340 riders each weekday. [Alexandria Times]
Section of Bluemont Park Renamed — A forested, 6.6-acre section of Bluemont Park has been renamed Mary Carlin Woods, in honor of one of the property’s owners. Mary Carlin’s family owned the property from 1772 until her death in 1905. The new name will also make it easier for first responders to find the area in an emergency. [Arlington County]
RedRocks Adds Delivery, Opens Patio — Columbia Pike pizzeria RedRocks is now offering delivery service. For those who’d rather dine out, the restaurant has just opened its outdoor patio for the season. [Twitter]
(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) While new apartments and condos make up the vast majority of new housing units in Arlington, most of the growth in Arlington’s booming public school population over the past decade has actually come from single family home neighborhoods, county and school officials said Wednesday night.
At a meeting of the Arlington Community Facilities Study Committee, staff from Arlington Public Schools and the county Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development reviewed the housing trends that have fueled explosive school growth over the last decade. Despite the constant influx of millennials into newly-constructed apartments and condos in the county’s Metro corridors, single-family homes remain the driver of APS capacity issues.
Currently, every 100 apartments in a building with an elevator produces only about 8 students, according to APS. For condo buildings it’s even lower — 3 students for every 100 units.
However, in an interview today, APS Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick said that might not always be the case.
“That’s what really worries us,” he said. “The county is encouraging developers to build larger units, and in places like Brooklyn and Queens, families living in high-rises is the norm … Our very low [student] generation rates could really increase. If they do, we could be in real trouble.”
That growth hasn’t happened yet, although Chadwick said APS watches those numbers “very closely” so the district is not surprised if the trends shift. Until then, staff, committee members and observers from the community all agreed that the cause of growth among students in the county requires further study.
According to U.S. Census data gathered by Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, the average size of single-family households has increased by 0.3 people among homeowners since 2000, and 0.6 people among home renters.
Several representatives of civic associations at last night’s meeting said they want the county to use data from single-family house teardowns that get rebuilt as substantially larger homes, as well as large additions. A parent in the Nottingham Elementary Parent Teacher Association said APS should adjust their projections based on the recent uptick in average household size among single-family homes.
“What’s happening in my neighborhood is there’s a huge stock of houses that were built in the ’50s are being knocked down, they’re being replaced by new large homes, all bought by younger families with lots of school kids,” the parent said. “We really need to dig into growth, not looking backwards at what did happen… You cannot assume that looking backwards is going to tell us the future.”
County-wide, 100 single-family homes generate about 42 students, according to APS data. But, Chadwick said, some neighborhoods are as high as 60 or 70.
A staffer at the meeting, when asked about predictive models based on house tear-downs and additions, said the data Arlington has is unreliable for school projections.
“The [demolition] permitting system was set up to collect fees, it wasn’t set up to project students,” the staffer said. “Unfortunately there’s limitations to that data … we’ve assembled it and that’s something we’re looking into with a similar question: can it be predictive given the constraints that we have?”
In the the current school year, 55 percent of students come from single-family homes, 22 percent come from garden apartments, 10 percent come from high-rise apartments and 13 percent come from condominiums, townhouses and duplexes combined. Those proportions have held over the last years, despite overall county population growth concentrated in the Metro corridors.
While single-family detached homes make up most of the land in Arlington County, those homes only make up 26 percent of the housing stock.
Two weeks ago, the Arlington County Board said “not now” to a planned elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
Opponents of the plan cheered the County Board’s action, saying that plans to build on the TJ site would eliminate land that could later be used as parkland. Arlington Public Schools will now go back and conduct more studies and community engagement in order to figure out how to deal with its capacity crisis in south Arlington.
Supporters of the school plan said delaying the construction of urgently needed school capacity could result in 45 new trailer classrooms next to south Arlington schools by 2018.
While the “Save TJ Park” group that opposed APS’ proposed placement of the school was the most vocal during the lead up to the County Board vote, those who supported the school are now making their voices better heard.
In a letter to the Sun Gazette, Arlington resident Nathan Zee writes that the County Board decision shows that there is “an unquestionable divide” between north and south Arlington.
“The County Board’s direction to APS to keep working with the community until consensus is reached is nothing short of a total absolution of leadership and decision-making responsibility,” Zee writes. “There could always be more planning, but the time to act was now.”
In order to find out (unscientifically) how the community as a whole feels, we’re putting it to a poll: do you support the County Board’s decision?
In response the Arlington County Board’s decision to say “not now” to APS’ plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, the School Board delivered a joint statement last night, agreeing to work with the county to find creative solutions to fit the hundreds of new students coming to the county every year.
“We appreciate the County Board’s commitment to partnering with the School Board to provide a minimum of 725 new elementary school seats in South Arlington not later than the start of school in September 2018, using a combination of interim and permanent solutions,” the School Board’s statement reads. “This commitment increases the variety of options available. The County Board has offered to provide technical support to identify and evaluate County buildings and private commercial spaces that might help meet our capacity needs on an interim basis.”
The School Board took turns reading from parts of the statement at its meeting. The five members said they will start another community engagement process of their own, including directing Superintendent Patrick Murphy to work with County Manager Barbara Donnellan on identifying county- and privately-owned sites that could accommodate school uses.
Murphy is also charged with, according to the School Board’s statement, outlining “a process and timeline for considering solutions that enable us to meet our deadline of providing a minimum of 725 new elementary school seats in South Arlington by the start of school in September 2018.” That includes spending the approved $50.25 million bond funds, approved in November for the purpose of a more South Arlington elementary school seat.
Murphy has been directed to return before the School Board by April 30 with a status report on his conversations with the county and community engagement. The Board did not set a deadline for a complete recommendation or when it would make a decision.
The School Board also asked Murphy and APS facilities staff to “update APS feasibility studies of APS properties, as appropriate.” One of the County Board’s criticisms of the schools’ recommendations was a lack of study of the broader impact of a new school.
“The School Board is optimistic that more options will serve our community better,” the School Board statement reads. “We are moving forward in collaboration with the County Board and will work to build community consensus around capacity solutions. Together with Dr. Murphy, APS staff, the community, and the County Board and its staff, we are confident that we will maintain our focus on student achievement as we meet our capacity challenges.”
School Board Chair James Lander said “blood, sweat and tears” went into the School Board’s statement, and the five-member panel met at a retreat on Saturday to finalize the language. It is meant to come from “one board and one voice,” he said. (more…)
A County Board vote Tuesday night threatens to turn elementary schools south of Route 50 into virtual trailer parks — as Arlington Public Schools administrators scramble to come up with ideas, studies and public support for new school construction.
The County Board voted 4-1 to say “not now,” to the School Board’s request to build a new elementary school on county-owned land next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Libby Garvey, a former School Board chair, cast the dissenting vote.
The School Board previously vowed to provide 725 new elementary school seats in South Arlington by September 2018, but last night’s decision has put that goal in doubt. Those voting against the school said APS didn’t make enough of a case to the community that the TJ site was the best option.
“I don’t think the School Board organized the data and presented the data in a way that everyone in South Arlington can say ‘I see what they’re doing… this is the best they’re going to be able to do,'” County Board Chair Mary Hynes, also a former School Board hair, told ARLnow.com today. “The broader community does not understand that.”
Garvey, however, blasted the decision.
“South Arlington needs a new elementary school and they need it now,” she told ARLnow.com.
According to a press release, the School Board can re-submit their request to the county to build next to TJ, but only after it provides a full analysis of sites and potential additions in South Arlington, including “feasible non-construction strategies.” The analysis must include, Mary Hynes said, “tradeoffs with parking, green space and traffic implications.”
The School Board must also have “as close to final estimate” of what funding it needs from the county on top of the $50.25 million approved in the 2014 bond referendum. Initial estimates peg an underground parking deck at $7 million, money not included in the bond question.
The School Board has already approved an alternative plan for South Arlington elementary schools: building additions onto Randolph and Barcroft elementary schools. But School Board member Abby Raphael told ARLnow.com that it’s far from certain that the Board will move forward with those plans.
“In light of what the County Board’s decision is, the School Board is going to have to consider what our next steps are,” Raphael said.
If no permanent seats are built by 2018, elementary schools south of Route 50 will be over capacity by 894 students, according to APS projections. If no alternative, temporary solutions are found, that would mean 45 more relocatable classrooms would have to be installed at South Arlington elementary schools, more than double the 38 currently in use.
In APS’ presentation for the County Board last night, schools staff laid out the realities of South Arlington’s enrollment growth. Based on current projections, the area needs either two new elementary schools, one new school and three additions on existing schools, or six additions by 2024. APS projects that 1,384 additional students will need elementary school seats in South Arlington in the next 10 years.
“I thought the schools did a spectacular job in their presentation and clearly addressed the concerns that had been expressed,” by opponents, Garvey said today. “I was extremely disappointed… We’re building a new school in North Arlington and now we’re telling South Arlington ‘oh well, never mind.'”
Raphael said the County Board’s decision was “frustrating” and felt the School Board had done more than enough to inform the community and justify its decision.
“I’m not sure that the County Board and maybe some of the community have a full appreciation of the work we’ve been doing since 2011,” Raphael said. “There’s extensive documentation on all the feasibility studies we’ve done. I don’t know what else the county is expecting us to do for that.”