As an advocate of preserving Wilson School, I am delighted with the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board’s (AHALRB) recent decision to designate the site of the Wilson School as a local historic district. Yet I agree with Rosslyn community leader Stan Karson, that the battle to preserve the school is uphill. That’s because both County Board and the School Board want to demolish the historic structure to make way for a megaschool.
At a recent County Board meeting Jay Fisette argued that preservation wasn’t an option, because the majority opposes historic preservation. Fisette didn’t say who constitutes the majority. But unless he is prepared to argue that AHALRB is at odds with the Rosslyn community, it seems that the majority does not include those who reside in West Rosslyn.
Relying on cost estimates from APS staff, John Vihstadt said that renovation of Wilson School is too expensive. Yet historic status opens the way to federal and/or state historic preservation tax credits, which could cut the cost of renovation by as much as a third.
A dissertation defended by Paola Venturini Brooks in 2011 reported that the renovation of two historic Richmond area schools—Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology around the year 2000–were financed through syndication of historic tax credits to private investors, at considerable savings to their respective school districts.
The dissertation entitled: “Use Of Historic Tax Credits For School Construction In Virginia: Costs, Benefits, Administrative Implications, and Public Policy Issues,” compared the cost of these renovations with that of other Richmond area schools that used traditional financing (Table 2, p. 54).
Even after discounting for the cost of syndication, historic tax credits covered almost one third the cost of the Appomattox renovation. Likewise Venturini Brooks reports that the “Maggie Walker Governor’s School was financed as follows: one third with proceeds from the syndication of state and federal tax credits, one third with private contributions, and one third with commitments from the localities utilizing the governor’s school (p. 67).”
Clearly historic preservation tax credits brought substantial savings to some sister school divisions in the state of Virginia and could benefit Arlington if only APS staff were say NO to business as usual and start thinking outside the box.