Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThe “hippie high school” program at H-B Woodlawn, though always avant-garde, is poised at the cutting edge of new school building concepts–as Arlington scrambles to ease overcrowded classrooms.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy confirms that the days of 1950s-style two-story suburban schools sprawled on 20 acres are a thing of the past. Consult the system’s plans for a new 1,000-seater middle school on Woodlawn’s Stratford campus and its 775-seat high-rise coming to upper Rosslyn.

But the Gordian Knot of Arlington’s crowding problem won’t be easily cut.

At Arlington’s Committee of 100 on May 13, Murphy presented some harrowing numbers: a projected countywide deficit of 2,919 seats, with most schools above 10 percent of capacity. The system’s total will rise from 25,773 students to 28, 592 by 2019; a 38 percent expansion next decade, a boost of 7,800 students.

“They’re here, they’re not in the pipeline,” said Murphy of the bulge primarily at the elementary level. “Last year’s 5 percent growth was the largest ever,” its kindergarten cohort an eye-popping 2,200 kids versus only 800 in 2009.

The future of Arlington’s schools, of course, is intertwined with that of the county. So the audience heard from former county board leader John Milliken, head of the much-touted Community Facilities Study (it has 23 members and 100 advisers—that’s the Arlington Way).

Arlington’s 26 square miles will host an additional 10,000 people by 2025—most of them Millennials, under-five-year-olds, and seniors. “Arlington’s most precious resource is its land,” said Milliken, citing competing demands for fire houses, storage and parks.

Ted Hayes, president of the County Council of PTAs, reminded facilities planners that “space is a tool.” Don’t lose sight of educational quality, the “daily reality” that some students are not achieving, and space should be inviting for parents.

Current remedies, Murphy noted, include construction projects (a new elementary on North Harrison St. , new wings at McKinley and Ashlawn), converting computer labs to classrooms, 125 trailers (“relocatables”), and recapturing 300 seats from courtyard space at Washington- Lee High School.

Next steps by 2020 include a new South Arlington elementary school (site TBD) and “associated boundary changes.”

“Technology changes the game,” Murphy said, given modern remote access capabilities, “and we are changing the culture of how students and teacher work together.” Space in high schools can be freed up as seniors leave early for work-study.

School planners are eying small properties they own, and have even considered purchasing commercial space—as Fairfax did when it created the high-rise Bailey’s Upper Elementary School, a foreclosed property. But building codes, especially at the elementary level, narrow the options, and leases take money from operational funds, Murphy said.

The county’s newly acquired six-acre industrial site off Quincy St., board Chairman Mary Hynes explained, is promising. But a community process must take place, during which she expects to hear from advocates for a park and a school bus storage site.

The Arlington County Civic Federation questioned the school system’s demographic methodology—“thousands more seats will be needed by 2024 than are projected,” said Michael Beer. He urged the county to consider business proffers and public-private partnerships.

Former School board member Richard Barton (your former Our Man in Arlington), recalled that in 1980s—the middle point of a two-decade drop in our school population–the agenda was which schools to close. No one wants to overbuild.

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Arlington’s new police chief, former deputy and acting chief Jay Farr, was appointed last week just as a new photo-history of the department hit the stores from Arcadia Publishing. Compiled by Janet Rowe, retired after 31 years as an Arlington patrol officer, the volume “Arlington County Police Department” offers an insider’s yearbook-style look-back at chiefs, training and notable crimes.

The paperback describes the department’s formation in 1940 on up through 9/11 to the present-day department with its 371 sworn and 97 civilian employees.
Visuals include head shots of fallen officers and group photos such as the department’s baseball team. Sales proceeds go to the department’s Beneficiary Association’s Friends and Family Fund.

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