The Superintendent’s Recommended Capital Improvement Program (CIP) indicates that within the next five years Arlington schools will have a deficit of 1,000 elementary school seats, 1,000 middle school seats, and about 500 high school seats.
To meet the demand for more seats the CIP proposes to:
- build a new 725 seat elementary school in South Arlington for $50 million;
- expand Abingdon School for $29 million;
- construct a new 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the current Wilson School for $117 million;
- construct a 1,300 seat new high school at the site of the Arlington Career Center for $149 million;
- expand Washington-Lee High school for $5 million;
for a total major construction cost of $350 million plus an additional minor construction cost of $70 million, or a grand total of $420 million. This equates to about $111,700 for each of the added 3,761 seats or at 21 students per class, about $2.3 million per classroom.
The CIP indicates that the choice of what and where to build was dictated by cost, i.e. in each construction category—elementary, middle and high school—the least expensive combination of added seats among the options presented was chosen.
How these costs were derived is unknown, but the basic assumption of the CIP is that it costs more to renovate or expand than to build new.
“Option sets including additions/renovations to existing elementary and middle schools cost approximately $19,000,000 more and deliver about 265 fewer seats.” (p. 39)
This assumption is counterintuitive. It’s like telling a homeowner that it’s cheaper to tear down his house and build a MacMansion than to add on to his home. For the sake of transparency APS should tell the taxpayers who developed these numbers and what interest he/she may have in the outcome.
I’m also concerned that APS has not explored modular design techniques that might reduce the cost of new school construction. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) emphasizes modular design.
A presentation produced for an April 23 ACPS work session with Alexandria City Council indicates that ACPS plans to add 15 modular rooms to James Polk ES for a total of $8.5 million or approximately $567,000 per classroom. This is a fraction of the estimated $2.3 million cost to build a new APS classroom.
ACPS also plans to either tear down and rebuild or renovate a permanent 800+ seat K-8 school at the site of Alexandria’s Patrick Henry ES for $41 million, which compares favorably with the $50 million allocated in the CIP for a new elementary school in South Arlington.
Alexandria shares a geographic boundary with Arlington. It’s located in the same SMSA as Arlington. Arlington taxpayers need to know why school expansion costs so much less there than here.