On Monday of this week County Manager, Mark Schwartz, wrote a letter to Arlington Public Schools (APS) outlining a series of sites across the county to be considered for sites for new schools. These sites are located around the county on small lots including community gardens, community centers, and current park space. The site considerations suggest a complete lack of planning prowess and a disregard for the diversity of needs in our community.
Reasons why using the identified public space for schools is a bad idea
- Security on APS properties will result in the 230,000 people who currently have full access to parks, community centers, and community gardens will then have limited and restricted, if any, access to these spaces as APS or regulations permit.
- APS shows an inability to maintain its facilities. School facilities have not been maintained at the levels necessary to sustain the type of volume of traffic the facilities need to support.
- The county has zero respect for the environment. If you go to any of the newly built schools, you will notice that the surrounding landscaping has been decimated from a lack of care and maintenance. At Wakefield, for instance, they are on at least the fourth round of tree plantings and today a majority of those trees are dead again.
- Three of these identified spaces are in flood plains and would result in the county having 100% liability of all of those spaces for the next flood as the county will not be able to get the spaces insured. All indications are that that another flood will happen sooner than later.
APS needs to expand its instruction facilities to meet a growing student population. I honor that this is a stressful time for schools. However, I do not believe that this display of partnership by the County Manager demonstrates strategic decision-making with the community nor experts. Rather it the easiest offering due to a lack of uncoordinated and unplanned residential growth by the County Staff and County Board.
The County has had several opportunities to buy large lots of property, even in the last couple of years. The Kirkwood/Washington Blvd Property, several lots in Crystal City, and lots along Columbia Pike, including the Arlington Cemetery annexation. The county has also passed up opportunities to expand current school sites as properties adjacent to those schools were developed, including the homes between Route 50 and TJ Middle School, or the homes along the southern border of Wakefield High School.
The County will likely have the option of acquiring [at no direct cost] the River House parking lots in Pentagon City in exchange for density, but instead is proposing a park nearby which is already over-capacity and over-built.
The excuse for lack of purchasing action was typically the lack of cash which is a falsehood given that the county has a reserve fund that is excessive with over $150 million available for use or that the county is in danger of losing its AAA bond rating
The County Board has signaled that it will spend millions to bring more people to Arlington with the 2020 housing initiatives. In particular, the housing focus has been on a population that is most likely to be of childbearing age or have children. Twenty years of data demonstrates that building more housing will not reduce housing costs or improve infrastructure needs in the county. Additionally, we know that adding more housing will result in an increase in the number of students in the school system and continue to stress an already over-stressed infrastructure.
I recognize that we need more schools in the county and, at the same time, need spaces serving the whole community of diverse needs and interests. Some thoughts:
- Combine scaling residential growth with policy to scale all infrastructure including schools. The Dillon rule cannot be used as an excuse.
- Develop creative partnerships for our most high achieving students with dual enrollments with Marymount University in North Arlington and with Northern Village Northern Virginia community college in South Arlington.
- Accept that not every school has to have a full athletic infrastructure.
- Rethink community centers, and schools, by creating incentive policies for developers to create these spaces in the empty unrented spaces or new developments.
- Prioritize the creation of cheaper transportation options to more economically diverse communities
In an era of equity and access, the County Board has to make some tough decisions. Further limiting the broad majority of residents access to space is not the answer.