South Arlington Working Group to Site a New Elementary School Meeting #4

Draft Meeting Minutes – July 29, 2015

South Arlington Working Group to Site a New Elementary School

Meeting #4 – Non-County/School Sites

Wakefield High School Cafeteria, 7 pm. 

Welcome and Recap – Greg Greeley

Greg called meeting to order and welcomed the committee. Greg recapped the site requirements, site considerations, and the areas of greatest need. The APS sites of interest from meeting #2 and County sites of interest from meeting #3 were reviewed.  

Open Meeting Requirements & Guidelines – Meg Tuccillo

  • All emails among more than two members of the working group where the business of the working group is discussed during this process are considered public and subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • Members of the working group should avoid engaging in e-mail or in person discussions about working group business between more than two members of the group.  If a member has information to share with the group, it can be sent to Meg or Lionel and will be distributed to all members.
  • 3 days notice is required to announce a public meeting (note that Meg had mentioned 3 “weeks” during the course of the meeting, but that is not correct.)
  • Comments can be posted on website

Bailey’s Upper Elementary School Presentation  – Lauren Perry Ford, architect for project

  • The school is the first vertical school in the region
  • Fairfax PS converted an empty five-story office building under foreclosure into an upper elementary school
  • The existing elementary school was well beyond capacity at 1,400 students, half of the students were in trailers
  • To alleviate the overcrowding, this empty office building, located about a mile from the original school, was renovated to house the third, fourth, and fifth grade students.
  • Busing was a challenge. The solution is that older and younger kids ride the bus together, the younger ones are dropped off first at the lower school then the older students are dropped off at the upper elementary. This allows siblings ride together as well as walk home together.
  • There is no legal pedestrian path between the neighborhood and the upper school.
  • Administrative space is located on the ground floor
  • Classrooms are housed on the second through fifth floors
  • School includes a library/black box theater and a series of exercise and movement rooms
  • The second phase of the project will add an outdoor play area and a gym
  • There are no students on the ground floor
  • Half of the ground floor is covered parking, which could possibly be converted into classrooms at a later date
  • There is a Master Plan that will do a re-visioning of that neighborhood
  • Cost – $9 million for the building and construction for Phase 1 was $10 million.
  • There was a community process and it was fast. Fairfax PS appointed a committee and had an opportunity to get input from the community.

Working Group Real Estate Discussion – Including Phil Meany (Commercial Realtor) and John Chadwick

  • Phil Meany explained that APS has been looking at viable commercial space over the years and continues to do so.  He explained the challenges of finding commercial space in Arlington to buy or lease, and John Chadwick stated leasing space directly affects our operating budget, which means less seats. If we build it we own it and keep it.  However if we lease the space we get nothing when lease is up.  
  • A member stated that we need to know facts and figures. It seems we have more students. What is the student need and do we need more than 1 school? What happens when we don’t have money?
  • Greg G. – By 2019 we expect to be short more than 900 seats.
  • John Vihstadt – when Schools go through the CIP process we try to determine what the bond is going to be. At the same time, we are very much concerned about our AAA bond rating. We want to keep that. We determine a finite amount, and relative allocations. If schools need money, we make a decision on what’s going to take a hit. That’s going to be a tough conversation. It’s very important that people weigh in.
  • A member asked about revenue – would the County consider more TDRs (Transfer Development Rights)? Using that as a way to subsidize the building of schools.
  • John Vihstadt. – It’s something that we need to consider but I’m just 1 out of 5 County Board members.
  • Member asked if it is just a matter of cost – having lower ceiling heights? Can those be modified?
  • Response – It’s good for classrooms. What it’s not ideal for is a gymnasium, theaters, etc. It’s possible to modify the space but it takes money.
  • Suggested site – Curry’s automotive site is next to the DMV, gas station and a 7-11. Not sure how much it would cost. It’s an industrial area, but it’s next to Barcroft Park.
  • Suggested site – Columbia Pike and George Mason – half dozen Penske trucks there, on major intersection, transportation access is good. It backs up to Doctors Run Park. There’s already a toddler and young child play area there. One downside is that it’s almost adjacent to Randolph.
  • Suggested site – There is a Vornado property in Pentagon City (River House) where the developers have indicated they are open to providing a land parcel to build a school.
  • Suggested site – VA Hospital Center – If they are willing to swap the Edison site for that one. It would be hard to put an ES there; there are 2 within ½ mile.  Possible swing space for Montessori.
  • Suggested site – 2920 S. Glebe Road – directly across the street from the Gold’s Gym. I’m not sure how big it is, it’s in an area where we have growth and could be used for other things. But, it is a resource protection area.
  • Suggested site – ABC Distributors – the land across the street is available to. Used car lot. Concern with ABC Distributor Site – concrete next door, near 395. What about air quality issues, next to the floodplain. It’s a big spot. Member stated she wouldn’t want kids near a concrete plant.
  • Suggested site – Shirlington Crescent did not receive much discussion.  A member asked if someone would explain the Shirlington Crescent suggestion. A member mentioned that their school system bought houses adjacent to school property.
  • Suggested site – Long Bridge Park – would developers be interested there, and building a comprehensive high school there, instead of an aquatic center.
  • Suggested site – 2 areas – Henry ES/Career Center/Fenwick Center/Library plot of land and the block of buildings between Columbia pike and 9th Street South,
  • Suggested site -Purchase home next TJ Park and Jefferson MS community – as those properties go up for sale, better access to Route 50.
  • Suggested site – GW softball field that would be a counterpart for that Curry Auto, DMV and 7-11 site. Seems to be a parcel with green space paved over. Couldn’t they use softball field elsewhere in the county? And make better use of that land which is in prime location.
  • Suggested site – Artisphere space as swing space for Montessori?
  • Suggested site – Apartment on 18th Street, across the parking lot from the Aurora Hills library, 4-6 story apartment building. It’s quite large, maybe big enough for a school. Adjacent to park and library. Interesting thing to look at. It’s 1.8 acres
  • Suggested site –  Adjacent to Eads Park, is 1.3 acres. 4 story structures, $6 million all in for the property
  • Suggested site – 23rd St property listed for sale.  Noted that the building layout would not allow for pre-k there.
  • Member encouraged the group that we’re in search of multiple sites. Just because it’s near an existing school, we shouldn’t rule them out. We need to have alternate sites around the county. What about a magnet immersion school, or a science school, adjacent to a neighborhood school. We need to remember that we’re a small county. It’s not that long of a drive.
  • Member stated, with these commercial sites, we see how small they are. But we do have 5 years between now and when this school opens, so that means we need to come up with interim solutions as well. Some of these properties could be good interim solutions.
  • Member stated that we need to think a little differently. We can’t build our way out of this issue.
  • Member stated we are coming up with ideas for sites for schools, and now we’re adding good ideas about longer-term possibilities.
  • Member cautioned that a number of people mentioned parcels next to a park and that people use those parks. The community’s access will be limited. Also that in considering River House, the density adds additional costs to the community and we should keep that in mind.
  • Member question: 2019, and it seems like 2020 is on the table now. What is the swing space for next year vs. a new school in 2019 vs. a new school in 2022? Long, medium, and short term?
  • Member asked about the use of commercial space – we have a lot of big developers who own those buildings. Why can’t we talk creatively to get people into 5 to 10 year leases, so that we can buy ourselves some time, and trade with the developer for something for reduced rent or other benefits?
  • John Vihstadt explained proffers for schools – he said that’s a conversation he’s willing to have.  He’s been advised that this would need a community process, and potentially legislation in Richmond, which won’t be easy either. If we go to a system where proffers for schools are on the table, it could have an adverse impact for other things such as affordable housing, and the ability to get community space. Presumably positive tradeoffs and negative tradeoffs as well.
  • Bob Duffy (Planning Director for Arlington County)– We don’t use proffers in Arlington. Fairfax and Alexandria does use them.  It will take a significant community conversation to revise the tool. From a planning perspective, it’s been a successful one. It will require rethinking, legislative change, and shift in policy.
  • Member stated we are not being realistic about properties that are really available. Four Mile Run – that’s not for sale. So is that really on the table? I don’t know what we’re deciding tonight. Member was in favor of the county picking areas to strategically purchase for the future. If we have a site that’s near the school, why can’t we do an upper and lower school?
  • Member stated we currently don’t have a stand-alone MS and HS Spanish immersion or a MS Science Program, and we’re talking about a HS STEM program. We’re in a system of building with broken links instructionally.
  • John Vihstadt discussed the Virginia Hospital site on S. Carlin Springs Rd. conversation.  He said it’s not a done deal, but it’s likely that the County Board will have it on the agenda this fall and would involve swapping Edison site, directly north of the Virginia Hospital, allowing the hospital to expand. In return for that, Arlington would get some combination of land and funds. The east side of S. Carlin Springs Road and other parcels along Lee Hwy are the biggest pieces of land that the hospital has. It’s largely positive conversations and he thinks it’s a real possibility.
  • Member asked if we were to do a split school, is that something that’s actually a possibility, because it’s an instructional change.
  • Response: We would consider that, and it is part of our decision.
  • Member stated, regarding upper/lower ES concept – we’re not thinking about doing a 725-seat upper or lower school? Remind everyone that we are looking for a 725-seat location.
  • Greg reminded the group that over the next 4 meetings, we would be analyzing sites.  First we will be looking at how the suggested sites can reduce crowding at our impacted schools.  Then, we will look at the current uses of each of the sites to understand whether it is possible to share the sites with a school.  We will also be considering school achievement across the elementary schools in south Arlington.  
  • The group seemed interested in planning to analyze two sites – River House in Pentagon City and Virginia Hospital’s site on Carlin Springs Road – with our current set of sites and that we should gather more information about the other sites discussed before we determine if they are worth further consideration.  
  • Staff will use suggested criteria for commercial sites (size, cost, viability, green space) to create chart for member consideration of suggested commercial sites
  • Members were invited to come to County Fair display on possible South Arlington school sites, Friday, Aug 7th, 4-6 pm, Saturday, August 8th, 4-6 pm and Sunday, August 9th, 1-3 pm.

Future Meetings:

August 12, 2015, 7pm, Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 South 16th St, 22204

August 26, 2015, 7pm, Aurora Hills Community Center, 7355 South 18th St, 22202

September 9, 2015, 7-9pm, Arlington Career Center, 816 South Walter Reed Dr, 22204

Additional Meetings Will Be Announced