At a projected cost of more than $2 million per additional class room and nearly $19,000 per student per year, APS must reduce its capital and operating outlays to cope with increasing enrollments. At previous School Board meetings, I’ve recommended the use of modular classroom design, historic preservation tax credits, energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy. All of these techniques have been demonstrated to cut capital and/or operating costs, sometimes by a lot.
Another possible opportunity to explore is the recent closure of St. Charles Elementary School on Washington Boulevard near Clarendon due to declining enrollment.
The diocese has reopened the school, which has a capacity of about 200 students, as an early childhood learning center. This use dovetails with the need to relocate the Reed School should APS decide to locate a new secondary school there.
Instead of building a new preschool from scratch or locating it in a building designed for other use, why not lease the St. Charles school building from the Catholic diocese? It is centrally located, and the diocese may derive a greater benefit from leasing the property than it might by operating it on its own. With tuition ranging from $2,200 to $9,000 per year, depending on the program, the diocese may be unable to sustain enrollment.
APS, by contrast, has no such problem.
Another possible win-win proposition is repurposing office buildings for use as schools. Fairfax County Public Schools just converted an office building on Leesburg Pike near Seven Corners for use as a school to ease the overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary in Falls Church.
At $20 million the renovation compares favorably with the $50 million APS says it needs to build a new elementary school from scratch, and realtors in Crystal City may jump at the opportunity to lease vacant space to APS for classrooms.