I was happy to learn at the May 22 and June 8 School Board meetings that other Arlington residents are concerned about plans to build a 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the Wilson School in Rosslyn. I was particularly impressed with Arlington lawyer Kristin Woody’s rationale for recommending the M5 alternative instead. The M5 alternative described in Arlington Public Schools (APS) Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposal, would relocate the Reed School to Madison Community Center; relocate HB Woodlawn HS to the Reed School and renovate the HB Woodlawn building for use as a new Stratford MS.
Not only would M5 provide a middle school in North Arlington where it is most needed, it would enable the preservation of HB Woodlawn HS at a central location off Washington Blvd. I am also pleased that M5 consists of renovations and additions rather than demolition and new construction, because I dispute the notion that new construction is the cheaper way to go.
Alexandria City Public Schools (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 in the Superintendent’s CIP.
Modular classrooms not only show great promise in reducing the cost of new school construction, they are much more adaptable to changing enrollments, because they are easier to deconstruct when no longer needed.
Another great technique for holding down the cost of school construction is the Virginia Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Such tax credits are available to historically certified public schools transferred to the ownership of a limited partnership and occupied through the mechanism of a lease.
If the cost of renovation is substantial and the structure is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register or is located in a district so listed, the cost of construction may qualify for a 25 percent state tax credit. A 20 percent federal tax credit may apply if the building is converted to a new use. The Wilson School could qualify for federal credits if it is converted to another use, such as an elementary, pre-school, or even administrative offices.
A dissertation recently completed by Paola Venturini Brooks indicates that the financial benefits of tax credits for school rehabilitation include increased real estate values, substantial economic impact and reduced debt.
In fact two Richmond area schools, Maggie Walker Governor’s School and Appomattox Regional Governor’s School were renovated at a cost of $25 million and $17 million respectively without issuing any bonds at all. Wilson School is a prime candidate for the historic rehabilitation tax credit. If APS opted to preserve and renovate the school instead of demolishing it to make way for a “mega-project on a mini-lot”–in the words of Rosslyn activist Mark Antell–it would not only preserve the character of Rosslyn but save APS big bucks.