Wilson School to be Bulldozed to Make Way for Development

On April 18 Arlington County Board voted overwhelming to demolish historic Wilson School to make way for development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn over the objections of the Rosslyn civic leaders and the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).

Advocates of restoring the historic Wilson School were told that preservation must make way for other more important uses, among them an office building, a mega school, a fire station and a park.

According to preservationists restoring Wilson School would actually expand green space by eliminating the superstructure built around the original building, reducing its footprint by two thirds.

Citing Barrett Branch Library in Old Town Alexandria where an historic 1937 building was expanded with a new addition in 1995, preservationists indicated that a new high school and the Wilson School on the WRAPS site are not mutually exclusive.

Since a fire station and the Wilson School currently co-exist on the site, there is no reason why a rebuilt fire station could not co-exist with a restored school.

The only use that cannot accommodate the school is the high rise mixed use complex to be constructed by Penzance. County Board acceded to the deal in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till now.

Not only was this deal undertaken in a non-transparent manner, it is also imprudent. Consider that at 23 percent Arlington’s office vacancy rate is at an all time high. The Washington Business Journal reports a Rosslyn vacancy rate of 30.8 percent, with more than 2.7 million square feet of empty office space including a 35-story trophy office building at 1812 Moore Street that remains vacant a year and a half after construction.

Across the street from 1812 Moore two new office towers are going up that will glut Rosslyn with empty office space for years to come. No developer in his right mind would contemplate let alone construct office space in Rosslyn at the present time.

County Board can’t tell developers what to do. But it could exercise its power of site plan review to deny a permit that will trade irreplaceable county parkland for a high rise development of questionable value to taxpayers both residential and commercial. County Board would have done Penzance a favor by refusing to sell it the county owned land it needs to further this speculative, imprudent and unwise business venture.

The decision to scrap Wilson School sealed the Penzance deal since preservation of the school interfered with Penzance’s plans for the site. There is poetic justice here because the state of the office market in Rosslyn right now is so dire that any new office building will be hard to rent, and that might prove to be an albatross around the developer’s neck.

WRAPS Process Is Short Sighted

County Board member John Vihstadt questioned the priorities of the WRAPS planning process for west Rosslyn at the February 21 County Board meeting. He said:

“The [WRAPS] charge also very clearly specified that the desire is to accommodate: a new school, new affordable housing, a new fire station, private redevelopment and green space . . . and we may be faced with the issue ‘something’s got to give’.”
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Wilson School Designated an Historic Site

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.
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Planning Process for School on TJ Park Not Transparent

I commend the TJ Working Group (TJWG) for its excellent report detailing the options and the risks associated with constructing a 725 seat elementary school adjacent to TJ Middle School and park. The group asked two questions: whether APS could build a school there and whether ACB should approve the plan.

Of the four designs presented, the group recommended Scheme 2, placing the school at the northwest corner of the site as having the least detrimental impact. I agree with this assessment of the options presented. However, I’m concerned about the options that aren’t on the table, such as reserving the site for needed middle school expansion in the form of an addition to the existing structure. Continue reading

The WRAPS Process Isn’t Democratic

At the December 18 County Board meeting, Katie Elmore, spokesperson for the North Rosslyn Civic Association, complained about WRAPS, the planning group that advised County Board on what to do with the site of the current Wilson School. She was unhappy that WRAPS did not consider preservation of historic Wilson School.
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Advice from a Maverick

Congratulations to Nancy Van Doren and Barbara Kanninen on their election to Arlington School Board. I also want to thank those who supported my recent campaign for School Board. I got 33 percent of the vote or more than 18,000 votes, which is respectable, considering that my opponent was endorsed by both the Democratic Party and the Washington Post. By contrast I ran as a maverick on a fraction of my opponent’s budget, garnering no party or newspaper endorsements at all. Yet it is clear that my ideas about good government are gaining traction in this county.
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New School Options–Where Are the Numbers?

School Board’s search for an appropriate site for a new middle school has become a moving target, with neighborhoods pitted against one another as the host location. Good reasons have been advanced to rule out the current site of HB Woodlawn, the Reed School in Westover and the Wilson School in Rosslyn.

In view of these well considered objections, it appears that the only viable option consists in additions to three existing middle schools. Yet APS has all but ruled out additions due to cost.
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Hard Questions for Arlington Public Schools

Democratic candidates for local office issued a press release the other day promising to deal with Arlington’s enrollment crisis.

Unfortunately they will not be able to meet the challenge under Arlington Public School’s (APS) recently adopted capital budget, as it projects a 2,500 seat deficit even AFTER spending $383 million to produce 4,000 additional seats.
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More Ways To Provide More Classroom Seats

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. Continue reading

Vote NO On the School Bond Referendum

On June 16, APS adopted a $453 million ten year capital budget that allocates $50.25 million for new elementary school classroom space at an unspecified location[s] in South Arlington. The original plan was to build an elementary school on the site of TJ Park near TJ Middle School off Glebe Road near Route 50. But community opposition was so strong that the School Board deferred a final decision about whether to build the school or extensions to other South Arlington schools for another six months.
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