I applaud Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) recent announcement that it plans to defer consideration of Lubber Run Park as the site for a new school. Construction of new schools on parkland should be permanently ruled out, since Arlington has lost too much green space already. However, the prospect of tearing down the existing historic Wilson School to make way for a 1,300 seat secondary school in an already congested Rosslyn neighborhood, strikes me as bizarre. Wilson School should be preserved and renovated as an elementary school, the way it was designed.
Also I’m concerned about the April 23 More Seats for Students presentation’s counter-intuitive claim that “new construction options are more cost effective than renovations/additions by about $30,000,000.” That’s like telling a homeowner that it’s cheaper to tear down his existing house and build new rather than construct an addition to his home. Yet this assumption governs how APS is going to increase classroom capacity over the next five years.
APS ought to explain to County Board and the taxpayers how the estimates for new school construction were derived. County Board and APS ought to review the methodology employed to develop these numbers. Otherwise taxpayers have no way of knowing whether they are getting the best value for their dollar.
Moreover I’m concerned that the presentation makes no mention of how modular design techniques might reduce the cost of new school construction. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) emphasizes modular design. A recent PowerPoint presentation available on the web indicates that ACPS is adding more classrooms at a lower estimated cost than APS.
APS needs to follow Alexandria’s example and trim its capital budget. The 2014 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide indicates that APS spends $5,000 more per pupil than Fairfax County ($18,880 v $13,472). Yet Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High is the 4th ranked high school in the nation and the top school in Virginia.
Also its dropout rate is lower and on time graduation rate higher. So clearly Fairfax County residents are getting more for their education dollar than Arlington residents.