New Elementary School Planned for WMS Site

posted Jul 8, 2012, 10:47 AM by RockSpring CivicAssociation   [ updated Oct 14, 2013, 5:27 PM ]

Due to a large projected increase in student population in coming years, Arlington Public Schools (APS) is planning to expand elementary school capacity county-wide by 1800-1900 seats in the near term, including adding a new 600 seat elementary school to the current site of the Williamsburg Middle School (WMS). Funding for this first stage of school expansion will be included in the proposed school bond issue going before the voters in November.

In arriving at their current expansion plans, the School Board and APS staff spent many months examining various sites and about 65 different options located throughout the county.  Using a weighted numerical rating system, they analyzed and assigned scores to each option, reduced the number of options by stages, and eventually organized the surviving options into four alternative sets for final consideration.

In late March, 2012, the School Superintendent notified the Rock Spring Civic Association (RSCA), along with other relevant civic associations and PTAs, that the site selection process was underway, that a site in our area was being actively considered, and that he invited our community’s participation in an April “Community Update” meeting. At that meeting RSCA representatives and nearby residents learned that the School Board had just selected its final set of sites, which included the WMS site plus four others -- Ashlawn, ATS, Carlin Springs and McKinley. (Subsequently a small modification was made at Ashlawn, and the overall set was renamed “Option set E”.)

RSCA’s Executive Board immediately created a working group, chaired by Lynn Pollock and composed of both Executive Board members and nearby residents, to examine the proposed new school and work with the School and County Boards on related issues.  While acknowledging that APS data demonstrated a clear need for capacity expansion somewhere, and not wishing to adopt a not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) stance, the working group also recognized that many residents in close proximity to the proposed new elementary school had serious concerns about adding another school to the WMS site.  So the working group prepared and circulated a petition requesting that a full traffic and safety study be conducted and other issues satisfactorily resolved prior to selection of this site for inclusion in the School Board’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  120 residents in the immediate area around WMS signed the petition, with only two dissents, and the petition was sent the chairs of both the County and School Boards. 

The requested traffic study began just before school let out for the summer and is continuing in this fall. Nevertheless -- and despite several working group meetings with high level APS and County officials -- the School Board went ahead and included the WMS site in the School Board’s CIP; and it has indicated that construction of the proposed new elementary school at WMS will begin next year.

Thus by mid-June the School Board had clearly signaled that it was not open to reconsidering its site selections, and the County had indicated it would not intervene in site selections, which the County regards as falling within the purview of the School Board.  Under those circumstances the RSCA working group decided, in the best interests of the residents, that it should begin focusing its full attention on working constructively with APS and the County in planning the proposed new school, with the objective of ensuring that the best possible choices are made regarding placement of the facility on the WMS site, traffic flow, safety, aesthetic, environmental, and other impacts on the surrounding community. The community planning process will involve both an APS and a County committee. RSCA has successfully placed two persons on each committee, all four of whom live in the immediate vicinity of WMS, have served on the working group, and will receive guidance from it. 

There are three website links that can be useful to residents wishing to monitor development of the new school: 

  • The APS web page more seats for more students provides background on the capacity deficit and the process by which the WMS and four other sites were selected for expansions.
  • new elementary school  shows the activities of the  Building Level Planning Committee  (BLPC), which is the APS committee working on the details of the new school.  Included are background on the Committee, its scheduled meetings, and the presentations given.
  • PFRC is the website for the County's Public Facility Review Committee, which is responsible for reviewing and approving APS proposed plans from a use permit perspective and potential impacts on the surrounding community. Posted on the site are the Committee's charge, meeting dates, members, agendas, and meeting materials.
After well over a year of intensive work on the new school's plan by RSCA's work group and many residents, the County Board on September 24, 2013 approved a use permit for the new school, based on the revised plan submitted by APS. The history of the plan's development, the many changes secured in the design, and what still remains to be addressed were covered in a report by Lynn Pollock to the Oct. 2013 RSCA Annual Meeting, a copy of which is attached below. 

Residents with concerns or questions about the WMS site selection are encouraged to contact Arlington County School Board members. Questions concerning the planning of the new school design, layout and impact on the neighborhood may be directed to Lynn Pollock, (pollock.lynn@gmail.com), chair of the RSCA working group.

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RockSpring CivicAssociation,
Jul 8, 2012, 10:47 AM
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RockSpring CivicAssociation,
Oct 14, 2013, 5:10 PM
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