The Arlington County Board is set to consider a school expansion project that will involve changes to a local library.
Arlington Public Schools is requesting a use permit to add 150 seats to its Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center. It’s the prelude to a larger expansion project for the facility at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive, which would add 800 new high school seats and a 200,000 square foot addition by 2025.
The current project would add the new student capacity — bringing the total Arlington Tech seats from 350 to 500 — via interior changes, namely the use of what is currently the second floor of the Columbia Pike Branch Library. The library, in turn, would be modernized consolidated on the first floor of the building.
“Both floors of the existing Columbia Pike Branch Library will be renovated, with the second floor converted to classroom space for APS use during school hours and County use outside school hours,” a county staff report says. “There are no proposed changes to the façade of the building.”
If approved, Construction is expected to kick off in July or August and run through late fall. The library would be closed for 3-4 months, prompting some concerns from nearby residents.
“The Arlington Heights Civic Association expressed their concerns regarding the closure of the library during the renovations,” the staff report notes. “Residents will be able to access other full-service libraries to use the same services offered at this location, including the Shirlington, Aurora Hills and Glencarlyn branches, as well as the use of public computers at the nearby Walter Reed Community Center.”
The item at the end of the agenda for the Board’s meeting this coming Saturday.
More from the county staff report:
The Board will consider Arlington Public Schools’ request for an amendment to its Use Permit for the Arlington Career Center, located at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive. If approved, the amendment would allow APS to add 150 seats for the Arlington Tech high school program through interior renovations that would include renovating both floors of the Columbia Pike Branch Library. The number of seats at the Career Center would be increased from 800 to 950. The plan calls for converting the library’s second floor to classroom space during school hours and County use outside school hours. The modernized library would be consolidated on the first floor. During the anticipated three to four months of renovations, the library would be closed. If the plan is approved, APS expects to begin construction in July or August 2020 and finish in late fall. To read the staff report, scroll to Item No. 34. on the agenda.
As a result of the renovations, the total ACC building capacity will increase from 800 seats to 950 seats. With its existing functions consolidated to the first floor, the library will be modernized with new technology, furniture, and equipment that improves the delivery of current resources and programs. During the renovations, which are anticipated to last for approximately three (3) to four (4) months, the library and its programs and services will be closed. Due to financial costs and the short-term nature of the closure, there are no plans to set up a temporary library location. However, residents will be able to access other full-service libraries to use the same services provided at this branch, including the Shirlington, Aurora Hills and Glencarlyn branches, as well as the use of public computers at the nearby Walter Reed Community Center.
While the renovations were initially intended to occur during the 2020 summer break and completed in time for the 2020-21 school year, due to the uncertainty related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) the planned renovations have been delayed with an anticipated construction start date of July/August 2020. APS intends to proceed with the renovations as soon as reasonable in coordination with pandemic recovery. In the interim, to accommodate the growing enrollment at Arlington Tech, APS is pursuing alternatives over the 2020 summer break to increase seat capacity including minor interior renovations to add a new science lab and rightsize existing classrooms, as well as the temporary installation of eight (8) additional relocatables on the existing parking lot.
The Arlington Career Center is poised to change from drab, squat and Brutalist to taller, glassier and more modern, if new concept designs are approved by the School Board next month.
The designs were revealed at a meeting of two Arlington Public Schools committees on Wednesday. Created by the design firm Stantec, the concept renderings show the new planned look of what’s being called the “Jewel of the Pike.”
The career and technical education facility along the Columbia Pike corridor is set to add 250 seats next year and 800 new high school seats by September 2025, as APS works to accommodate rising enrollment across the school system. The School Board is expected to vote on the concept designs in March and the overall plan for the $185 million project in June.
The concept slides suggest that about 167,000 square feet of the existing structure will remain, with an additional 204,000 square feet built around it.
The first phase of the project, a two story building immediately adjacent to the career center, will be built on top of what’s currently a playground along S. Highland Street. It will include sufficient space for auto tech and animal science programs, as well as TV production and other uses.
As we reported in September, the expanded center will include a full-sized gym, a performing arts center, a new cafeteria, a new common area, a parking garage, a pool, and a multi-use outdoor synthetic turf field.
Despite the additions, the Arlington Career Center will remain an option school and not a comprehensive high school, though the concept renderings include notations of places where the facility can be expanded in the future.
The STEM Preschool at 3120 S. Abingdon Street in Fairlington is planning a sizable capacity increase.
According to an application filed on this Saturday’s Arlington County Board agenda, the facility is proposing an expansion from 66 children to 106 and employee increase from 15 to 22.
The new capacity is nearly double the 55 children originally approved by the County Board in 2014. In October 2015, the board approved a use permit amendment, allowing the facility to expand to its current capacity of 66 children.
In a report on the project, staff said the facility can accommodate the number of children proposed with the expansion.
Staff noted that the facility also has adequate parking under current zoning and has more than it would need under a new zoning ordinance taking effect on July 1, which would shift the parking measurement from one space per staff person to one space per eight children.
In the report, staff recommended approval of the application.
“The operation of the existing child care center has not and is not expected with the increase in capacity to adversely affect the health or safety of persons residing or working in the neighborhood and is not in conflict with the purposes of the master plans of the County,” staff wrote. “Overall, staff believes that the amended use will continue to be a quality addition to the community and have minimal impacts on neighboring areas.”
With more than 150 new students set to attend classes at the Arlington Career Center in the coming school year, officials are now scrambling to free up some extra classroom space at the facility.
The county school system now plans to move eight trailers over from the adjacent Patrick Henry Elementary School to free up room for those students in the 2019-2020 school year. Career Center Principal Margaret Chung informed parents of the move in an email Monday (Feb. 25) that was subsequently obtained by ARLnow.
Chung wrote that school leaders initially hoped instead to move students into the second floor of the Columbia Pike Branch Library space, which is located in the Career Center. But county officials rejected that request, prompting the reliance on the so-called “relocatable classrooms” instead.
“To accommodate our expected growth next year and beyond, we have had to identify space for the additional students,” Chung wrote.
The downside of that move is that the trailers will take up some space currently used for the Career Center’s Animal Science program.
The program includes classes focused on animal care and veterinary science, with a variety of animals housed at the site for students to study. Chung expects that the trailers will take up the space currently set aside for three grazing animals — APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says that includes two goats and a miniature pony — forcing the Career Center to “reimagine that program for a more urban setting.”
“This does not mean that we are discontinuing our focus on animal sciences,” Chung wrote. “We will continue to maintain the smaller animals onsite for learning and instruction.”
She added that her staff has “begun to explore options to find a new home” for the animals that need to move, with the goal having them settled by the time the new trailers are in place this summer. That’s also when the school system will move the Montessori program currently housed at Drew Model School into the Henry building.
But with demand for the Career Center’s programs anticipated to only keep growing in the coming years, and the planned expansion of the building to accommodate more high schoolers still years away, Bellavia says the new trailers won’t solve all the building’s space limitations.
Accordingly, APS officials plan to ask the county for permission to use both the first and second floor of the library as instructional space, Bellavia said, with the goal of having it available for students in time for the 2020-2021 school year.
It’s a move that “comes as a surprise” to Kristi Sawert, the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and a member of working group that spent months studying the planned expansion and renovation of the Career Center.
Eventually, the school system plans to build room for another 1,050 high schoolers at the facility. But the process of doing so has been a thorny one, with Sawert and other local parents pressing the school system to add a full suite of amenities at the site to make it equivalent to the county’s other comprehensive high schools.
Still, Sawert says that the need to take up the library space for the new students was “never mentioned” during the working group’s deliberations, some of which included the library’s future. The group suggested that the county could ultimately buy up some properties near the Career Center and use that land for a stand-alone library.
“We were told repeatedly during the [working group’s meetings] that internal modifications to the Career Center would accommodate the incoming class of 150 students,” Sawert wrote in an email to concerned neighbors she provided to ARLnow.
Roughly nine years ago, the county kicked off a firestorm of controversy when it proposed shuttering the Pike library and moving its offerings to the Arlington Mill Community Center. The branch has been located at the facility since moving there in 1975.
While moving students into the library space (and the changes to the animal science program) may end up ruffling a few feathers, Chung chose to paint the impending changes as indicative of the demand for the center’s programs.
“We are so pleased to see the excitement and interest in our programs, and it is extremely rewarding to know that more and more students and families want to be part of the opportunities that our programs provide,” she wrote.
Photo 2 via @APS_AnimalSci
Hope: No Impeachment Filing Yet — Updated at 9:50 a.m. — Del. Patrick Hope (D) says he’s delaying filing articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing two accusations of past sexual assaults. “An enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback… has led to additional conversations that need to take place,” Hope said. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]
More Trailers for Arlington Tech — “Students coming into the Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center for the next two years may find themselves spending more time in trailers than they had thought, and more time than School Board members are happy about.” [InsideNova]
State Split on Northam’s Fate — “Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.” [Washington Post]
Beyer on Face the Nation — “Democratic Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton renewed their calls for Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to step down over their respective controversies” on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. [CBS News]
Local Chef on CBS This Morning — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse made an extended appearance on CBS This Morning Saturday, talking about his food, his restaurants and how his aunt inspired his love of cooking. [CBS News]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
New school enrollment projections have reignited the long-dormant debate over the wisdom of building a fourth comprehensive high school in Arlington, as officials plot out the best strategy to educate a student population that won’t stop growing.
The issue reemerged in earnest late last month, when Arlington Public Schools planners unveiled some startling new data that could upend the School Board’s long-term construction plans.
It was not exactly breaking news when planners revealed that the school system’s enrollment is projected to grow by about 24 percent over the next 10 years. APS has added an average of 800 students annually for the last five years, after all.
But school leaders were a bit surprised to see that growth continuing apace, after initially expecting the number of students flowing into the county start falling through 2028, not rising. Even more notably, the new projections show about 2,778 additional elementary schoolers set to enroll in Arlington schools over the next 10 years, about 1,000 more than school planners projected just a year ago.
Considering how young those students are, that number could demand a major reexamination of the school system’s plans to add new high school seats.
The Board decided back in 2017 to build room for 1,300 high schoolers split between the Arlington Education Center and the Arlington Career Center, avoiding the expensive and difficult task of finding space for a fourth comprehensive high school in the county. But these new projections have some Board members wondering if that will be enough to meet these enrollment pressures.
“One of the bottom lines of this is that the 1,300 high school seats is not enough,” Board member Barbara Kanninen said at the group’s Jan. 24 meeting. “This looks, to me, like we’re really going to need that full, comprehensive high school after our Career Center project. And, to me, that means we need to start thinking about what that package of high school seats is really going to look like.”
New County Board member Matt de Ferranti also raised some eyebrows by suggesting in his introductory remarks on Jan. 2 that the county should fund a new high school, but not all of Arlington’s elected leaders are similarly convinced.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy urged the Board to “take a breath, look at this one year, and see if these patterns begin to play themselves out over a long period of time,” and some members agreed with a more cautious approach to the new projections.
“APS enrollment is growing faster than the available funds we have to address our growth, for operating needs (teachers, textbooks, buses) as well as for capital projects (building and expanding schools),” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “It’s important to remember that student enrollment and projections are just a snapshot of one major factor. That’s why we will continue to emphasize flexibility in our planning so we can be responsive and adaptable to address our future community and operating landscape.”
But, for some parents who have long demanded a new comprehensive high school in the county — joining Wakefield, Yorktown and the newly renamed Washington-Liberty — the new projections only underscore the urgency of what they’ve been asking for this whole time.
“I think the data have been suggestive for quite some time that Arlington will need a fourth high school, and it seems to make the most economic sense to do that project all at once and not in pieces,” Christine Brittle, a market researcher and APS parent who has long been active on school issues, told ARLnow via email.
But Brittle did add that it was “surprising” that Kanninen sees a need for a new high school even after the Career Center project is finished.
It remains an open question just how the Career Center will look once the school system can add 1,050 new seats there, work that is currently set to wrap up by 2025 or so. As part of deliberations over its latest 10-year construction plan last year, the Board agreed to build some of the same amenities at Arlington’s other schools at the Career Center.
But the county’s financial challenges meant that the Board couldn’t find the cash to build all of the features to make the Career Center entirely equivalent to a comprehensive high school, and a working group convened to study the issue urged the Board to open it as an “option school” instead of requiring students in the area to attend a school without the same amenities as others elsewhere around the county.
Accordingly, Brittle would rather see the Board simply expand its plans for the site instead of setting out to build a whole new school.
“I’m actually agnostic about whether the Career Center is the correct location for a [fourth high school], so perhaps APS is going to revisit that decision in light of these new projections,” Brittle said. “However, assuming they are going forward with the Career Center project, it certainly makes the most sense to do that project now as a full, fourth high school.”
Such a switch would come with its own complications — as the school system’s Montessori program leaves Drew Model School, it’s currently set to move into the old Patrick Henry Elementary, which sits next to the Career Center. Any move to transform the site would likely require finding a different home for the Montessori students instead, at least in the long term.
“It would be far cheaper to find some additional, offsite-but-nearby field space, add a pool to the already robust Career Center plans, and find another building to repurpose for elementary Montessori, rather than building a large choice high school, which they may or may not fill, and then having to turn around and build a fourth comprehensive high school elsewhere (with money Arlington does not have),” Megan Haydasz, an APS parent who’s advocated for more amenities at the Career Center, told ARLnow via email.
However, Kristi Sawert, the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and a member of the Career Center working group, pointed out that APS is already pretty far down the path when it comes to moving the Montessori program to the Henry building. The Board recently agreed to reprogram hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the building to prepare for the Montessori students’ arrival, which she sees as an admission that “APS has no plans to tear it down to create a full-scale fourth high school (especially given that APS has a huge money deficit).”
“But I could be wrong,” she wrote in an email.
Still, that sort of option may well be on the table. Some Board members saw a need for more high school seats, but they didn’t share the same conviction that a fourth comprehensive school is the only way to achieve that goal.
“We’re going to have to put [these students] in a high school,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren. “1,300, 1,400 seats, that’s not enough, and we don’t have a school for all those kids in the [Capital Improvement Plan].”
Yet part of what drove Kanninen’s conviction that APS needs both new seats at the Career Center and a new high school is her belief that the county’s 10-year enrollment projections don’t tell the whole story.
Many of the new students planners expect to see in the coming years are young enough that they won’t be reaching high school by the time 2028 rolls around, convincing Kanninen that the data don’t paint a full picture of the school system’s in the distant future.
“The future kindergarteners you’re projecting won’t be in high school in 10 years, it’ll be 20 years,” Kanninen told APS staff at the Jan. 24 meeting. “We’re not seeing in this projection how many high school seats we are going to need… We need another high school down the road. We really need to clarify that story, and it’s really clear from this data in a way it never has been before.”
Arlington schools officials are pumping the brakes on a controversial plan to swap the Arlington Science Focus School and Key Immersion School buildings, after new projections revealed an unexpected increase in the county’s elementary school students in the coming years.
The school system had previously planned to move Key’s Spanish immersion program to the ASFS building, and vice versa, sometime in the next two years. The move was designed to solve some complex boundary issues in North Arlington neighborhoods, as some students currently zoned to attend ASFS actually live closer to Key.
But the school system’s plans have attracted some fierce community pushback since Superintendent Patrick Murphy rolled them out in September, with parents criticizing the logistics of the move and Murphy’s decision to press ahead with the decision without putting the matter to the School Board for a vote.
Yet Arlington Public Schools officials say the decision to “pause” the swap was driven instead by the newest data about school enrollment growth in the county, which staff presented to the Board last week.
APS planners previously believed that the county’s student population growth was finally beginning to level off after years of large jumps, but they’re now expecting a 24 percent jump in the student population between now and 2028.
Notably, elementary schoolers account for most of that change. Officials are forecasting a 21 percent increase in the elementary school population alone, which translates to about 2,778 more students over the next decade — that’s about 1,000 more kids than they expected the school system would add just a year ago.
“Given this projections update and the strong commitment APS has to the dual-language immersion program, the location for elementary immersion will be reevaluated to best meet the needs of our students,” APS staff wrote in an announcement on the school system’s website. “APS will reevaluate where the immersion program can grow, either at ASFS or other locations, while providing equitable access for all students in the immersion option.”
Both schools are currently overcapacity, and each one requires several trailers to educate those students. Some parents were already concerned that the swap would pose space problems even before these projection updates, as Key is both larger and currently holds more students than ASFS. A petition urging the Board to stop the swap has already garnered more than 800 signatures.
But with this new information in hand, the school system says it plans to keep studying the issue, with the goal of maintaining the “50/50 student balance of native Spanish speakers with speakers of English” for the immersion program wherever it might land.
“It’s important to consider the best locations for the immersion program at the elementary level to ensure equitable access for all students, and encourage participation by English learners along with native English speakers,” APS staff wrote. “This is critical to the integrity of the dual-language model and helps ensure that the academic benefits of the program are fairly distributed within a community.”
School officials hope to deliver a recommendation on a path forward to the Board by December, in order to include any adjustments as part of the next round of elementary school boundary adjustments. That is set to impact 14 schools in all, coming on the heels of the Board’s boundary changes for eight South Arlington schools at the end of last year.
More broadly, the new elementary school projections are igniting some big questions for the Board.
Planners reassured school leaders at their meeting last Thursday (Jan. 24) that this sort of surprise jump in student population is “not unprecedented,” and largely driven by the relentless pace of development in the county. But it’s concerning nonetheless for Board members, who only just signed off on a biannual update of the school system’s construction plans for the next 10 years.
“Our growth is continuing long-term,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen. “Until this update, the county and our data were kind of projecting we were going to level off at some point, probably around 32,000 students. You’re going beyond that… It really shows we have continual growth.”
Student Population Predicted to Keep Rising — “Arlington school officials say they now anticipate the total student population to rise an additional 24 percent by 2028, and the latest round of projections has raised fears the school system could fall further behind in its efforts to keep up with elementary-school enrollment.” [InsideNova]
Amazon to First Come to Rosslyn? — “Amazon.com Inc. is said to be in talks to take some or all of the planned WeWork co-working space set to open in Rosslyn later this year as it plots its longer term growth at National Landing,” reports the Washington Business Journal. ARLnow has also heard from a commercial real estate source that Amazon will station its initial Arlington “HQ2” employees at the Rosslyn WeWork, while its temporary space in Crystal City is built out, but we have been able to confirm the rumor. [Washington Business Journal]
Local Elm Tree Honored — An American elm tree on S. Randolph Street “has become the first elm tree to be named a specimen tree in Arlington County.” [Arlington County]
Police Outreach Meeting Postponed — “Due to projected inclement weather, the North Outreach Team Quarterly Meeting scheduled for… January 29, has been postponed. Event details on the rescheduled meeting will be provided at a later time.” [Twitter]
Patient Stops By Fire Station to Thank Rescuers — “Andrew stopped by Fire Station 10 to show his gratitude after being extricated from his overturned Jeep last week on Route 110. Andrew was released from the hospital one day after the accident with no life threatening injuries.” [Twitter]
Nearby: Landmark Mall Development Update — “There are several years until any major construction activity occurs at Landmark Mall, but Alexandria and the mall’s owner are homing in now on the parameters that will guide the nearly 6 million-square-foot redevelopment… Buildings could rise as high as 250 feet, per one recommendation.” [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Arlington schools aren’t adding quite as many students as they used to, and that’s quite good news indeed for officials bracing for an influx of Amazon workers and their families.
Arlington Public School leaders are still worried about just how much the company and its 25,000 workers will strain local schools, of course. The school system is already trying to build new schools fast enough to match the enrollment surge Arlington saw over the last decade, and that’s before Amazon brings 25,000 employees to Crystal City and Pentagon City.
But Superintendent Patrick Murphy believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the school system, giving him hope that the tech giant’s arrival won’t be hugely disruptive for Arlington classrooms over the coming years.
“Based on what we’re seeing, we’re not going to continue at the pace of enrollment growth we’ve experienced here in the last 10 years,” Murphy said during an Amazon question-and-answer session livestreamed on Facebook yesterday (Wednesday). “I think this will work. But we are going to have to make some adjustments and pay attention to it.”
APS has added an average about 800 students per year over the last five years, school statistics show.
But the county’s school enrollment only increased by 578 students between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, and rose by 556 students between the 2017-18 school year and the current year. The school system’s 10-year projections also estimate that Arlington schools will add closer to 500 to 600 students per year over the next decade, with the number generally falling annually.
With Amazon on board, Murphy says that his staff’s early estimates suggest that the company will only add between 73 and 98 students to APS each year, considering that Amazon plans to only bring workers to the area over a period of 12 years. The company plans to move just a few hundred employees to its new headquarters next year, then add between 1,500 and 2,000 workers each year through 2030.
That means each county school may only see an additional two to three students join their classrooms annually, officials say, making the change a gradual one. Murphy expects that schools closest to the freshly dubbed “National Landing” area will feel the greatest impact, but he added there’s no “nice, neat and tidy” way to estimate the exact impacts this far out.
Murphy also reiterated the oft-cited statistic that only 15 to 20 percent of Amazon’s employees are likely to settle in Arlington, based on the county’s experience with other large companies in the past.
However, county officials hope that Amazon will bring along a string of associated businesses, and even help Arlington attract other tech firms on its own, so Jeff Bezos’ employees aren’t the only ones who will arrive in the county in the coming years.
But, once again, leaders stressed that the entire D.C. region, and its schools, will share the burden of absorbing the new arrivals.
“When you bring a company like this in, it ends up supporting other businesses… but they won’t all locate here,” said Victor Hoskins, head of Arlington Economic Development. “Some in alexandria, some in D.C., some in Fairfax County, some in Prince William. Some will be further out, some will be closer in.”
Murphy and Hoskins are both optimistic that Amazon will bring plenty of benefits to local schools as well. Not only do they envision the school system building stronger, tech education-centric partnerships with Arlington universities to meet Amazon’s demand for skilled workers, but they expect the increased tax revenue the company generates will redound to the benefit of county schools.
Yet as the company and its employees move in, Murphy hopes the added tax dollars not only funds the construction of more schools, but can also kickstart the expansion of Arlington’s pre-K offerings.
“A rising tide lifts all boats, and I really want that conversation to gain some momentum,” Murphy said.
Remembering 9/11 — Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are planning to attend Arlington County’s Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony in Courthouse this morning. The event will feature a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. The county’s emergency management agency, meanwhile, this morning posted audio of police radio traffic from immediately after American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west wall of the Pentagon. [Twitter]
Would HQ2 Be Good for Arlington? — Amazon could be an economic boon, or a gentrification disaster for lower-income renters — or both. Washingtonian asked a number of people, including Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins and former Arlington County Board candidate Melissa Bondi — who currently works in affordable housing policy — to weigh in. [Washingtonian]
Isabella Talks About Bankruptcy — Celebrity chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella says “bad press” — in other words, the “extraordinary” sexual harassment he and his executives are accused of — caused customers to stay away from his restaurants in droves, decimating revenue and sending his company into bankruptcy. Isabella’s trio of Ballston restaurants — Kapnos Taverna, Pepita and Yona — remain open but their long-term fate is unclear. [Washington Post]
Student Population Still Rising — “It won’t be official until the end of the month, but Arlington Public Schools is on track for another all-time high in student enrollment. School officials counted 27,522 students in seats when the school year began Sept. 4. While that is lower than a projection of 28,022 made in the spring, it represents a 2.2-percent increase from the first day of school a year ago.” [InsideNova]
Yorktown Rolls Over Wakefield — Yorktown scored a decisive win over Wakefield on the gridiron over the weekend, notching a score of 48-0. Both teams are now 1-1. In other high school football action over the weekend, Washington-Lee fell in double overtime against West Springfield, 28-21. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Jeff Reardon
A new capital spending plan for Arlington’s burgeoning public school system calls for adding more than 4,200 seats through 2027.
The $631 million construction plan includes a new elementary school at the Reed School site and 1,650 new seats for high schoolers split between the Education Center site and the Arlington Career Center.
The Board has spent weeks working to strike a balance between the school system’s increasingly tight finances and its ever-rising enrollment figures, resulting in a new Capital Improvement Plan that left Board members optimistic, yet unsatisfied.
Debate over the plans at Career Center, in particular, dominated the Board’s discussions about the CIP. Parents living near the center, which is located just off Columbia Pike and will someday be home to another 1,050 high school students, raised frequent concerns that APS might not build the same amenities at the site as it has at its three comprehensive high schools.
“With all the pressures on the school system right now, some may say the plan is not perfect today,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “But I believe it’s evolving in the right direction.”
The Board’s tight financial picture meant that it couldn’t quite meet all the parent requests, but members did work to speed up the construction of some features at the site by re-allocating some of the school system’s capital reserve money.
Under the version of the plan approved Thursday, the Career Center will now include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage.
The field and parking garage will be constructed in 2o23 to make those features available to students as more high schoolers move to the site. APS will then simultaneously add an 800-seat expansion and the performing arts section in 2025.
That will address some of the concerns raised by local parents, including some who formed an advocacy group focused on the issue. But they remain wary of how the Board will ultimately decide which students attend the Career Center site high school — members have yet to decide if it will be a “neighborhood” school only for students who live nearby, or a countywide “option” school.
“No child should be zoned to this school described in this proposal,” said Christine Brittle, an organizer with Citizens for Arlington School Equality. “Arlington has never had a choice school of this size.”
Board members stress that such a decision is a long way off, and the county’s financial picture could someday improve and allow APS to add more amenities to the site. There’s broad hope among officials that tax revenues will rebound when it comes time for the next CIP update in 2020.
“When the inputs change, the plan will change,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. “The CIP is a plan, not a promise.”
In the near term, the County Board still needs to sign off on the school system’s CIP as part of its own capital spending process.
County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that the School Board was a bit too ambitious in its ask from the county, though at a work session Tuesday (June 19), he suggested the version of the CIP the Board passed “can work… with a few minor adjustments.”
The County Board is set to pass its CIP by July 14.