ASF Question #1 on Arlington County Growth/Development for School Board Candidates - May 2020
APS Role in Shaping Arlington's Growth
APS enrollment has reached an all-time high, induced by Arlington’s record population, the annual addition of thousands of multi-family housing units, and the continued tear-down of modest homes in favor of large single-family residences with as many as six bedrooms.
Given the rising cost of school construction and the severe overcrowding of many of our schools at all grade levels—despite additions in recent years and the pending construction of several new schools, is it time to take steps to better manage and direct Arlington’s growth in a more paced and modulated manner?
(A) Would you favor the county taking steps like these:
--- A project-specific cost-benefit analysis for new developments, examining both incoming revenue impacts as well as potential incremental impacts on school enrollment, limiting new development to what is under the existing General Land Use Plan (GLUP), the Zoning Ordinance and other pertinent planning efforts governing particular sites.
-- The retrofit and repurposing of existing but under-utilized/outmoded commercial or residential buildings for APS facilities, similar to what has been done in the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County in recent years? While APS is repurposing the old Education Center office building adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School for classrooms, our school system has been much more reluctant to look in this direction than have other systems, despite the fact that such retrofits have the potential to be less destructive and disruptive to the natural environment.
Candidate Responses to Question #1
The rising cost of school construction and the severe overcrowding of many of our schools, at all grade levels, are serious concerns. One fundamental responsibility of the School Board is to provide all students with a healthy and sustainable school environment wherein they can thrive and succeed. Arlington must take steps to understand the nature of recent growth and to create a sustainable and healthy community for all students and their families - no matter their background, race, ability, family context, or legal status.
A) The short answer to both of these proposals is: Yes. As a member of the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee, I have long supported APS and the County engaging in more robust cost-benefit analysis procedures for construction. This is particularly important given the current economic crisis and the likely drop in both tax revenue and (potentially) bond capacity. We must know in advance what the implications are for construction on our potential revenue, expenditures, and student capacity in order to make the best decisions for all students.
B) I also support considering a broader plan to repurpose existing but under-utilized commercial or residential buildings. Given our limited geographic capacity, we must be creative in identifying new sites for potential school construction. Investigating innovative options, like repurposing or creating flexible community spaces, is a critical tool for ensuring that we can adjust dynamically as our student population ebbs and flows. We must encourage and support the efforts of the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee to create a comprehensive Public Facilities Master Plan that investigates all possible solutions that support sustainable school district and county government growth.
B) I would prefer we not use parkland to build future schools. However, I recognize that our county faces significant geographic constraints and may need to make difficult decisions in the future. This is why I support a collaborative framework for education governance that brings together APS staff, community leaders, and other stakeholders to make choices that represent the interests of our entire community. When we all engage authentically with the intention of improving outcomes for all students, these choices are transparent and understood by all - even when they are not agreeable to everyone.
If you go back and look at my opening speech for the first debate hosted by the Arlington
Democrats back in early March (Pre-COVID-19), I referenced the letter from the County
Manager as the framework to create a true 15-year plan for facilities. For years we have had
conversations around facilities owned by the county and facilities owned by APS. The two were not in agreement. That meant we did not have the full picture when properly planning for future growth. Now that we have a list of facilities that we can bring into the conversation, the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee (JFAC) can have substantive conversations on where the fourth comprehensive high school and new elementary schools will be located, and how to plan for future growth. We can use that list to provide options around using existing buildings to account for growth, which will minimize construction in the county. As your elected official, I will support creating a substantive plan for new buildings and retrofitting existing facilities.
As for using parkland, we need to understand why the parks were built in their respective
locations before we decide to build over them: “Beginning with its first stormwater
management plan in 1958, Arlington recognized the need to acquire low-lying, flood-prone
areas near streams to use them as public parkland and keep them largely undeveloped to
reduce flood damage and mitigate flood risk. . . . This [PR1] recommendation led to the acquisition of parkland along most County streams and was the basis for a number of the parks adjacent to Lubber Run, Four Mile Run, Gulf Branch, Donaldson Run, Doctor’s Branch and Windy Run.” (1) Therefore, if those parks were created with the intent of using them to reduce potential flood
damage, then we should acknowledge that concept before deciding to build on parkland. I
support keeping parkland undeveloped.
(1) email from Suzanne Smith Sundburg to David Priddy on 9/18/19[PR2]
(A) I agree that it is time to take steps to better manage and direct Arlington’s growth in a more paced and modulated manner. I favor the approach to retrofit and repurpose existing APS and county facilities as has been done in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. I favor this approach as practical, more efficient and environmentally friendly, and the most cost-effective.
(B) Using more parkland for schools is not ideal, and should only be considered as a last resort if no facilities exist that can be cost-effectively retrofitted for a school, and only after studying the environmental impact. Similar to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), Arlington should be required to conduct a study that outlays (i) the environmental impact of the proposed action; (2) any adverse effects that cannot be avoided; (3) alternatives to the proposed action; and (4) any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved in the proposed action.