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Votes

School Board Mulls Options

TC Expansion Plans Controversial

The Alexandria School Board has set a date for a public hearing on secondary school expansion.

The timeline originally called for a public hearing on the matter in October. “I really think that we should move the public hearing up to the beginning of September if possible,” said Board member Mark Wilkoff at the June 20, School Board meeting. “After all, we want to give the people of the community as much opportunity to comment on the proposed plans as possible. I believe that it would be helpful for us to hear from them before we meet with City Council.”

Board Member Molly Danforth disagreed. “I’m just not sure that we have anything to take to them at a public hearing,” she said. “After all, we will not have seen the architects’ drawings until Sept. 12, so we will not really know what there is to discuss.”

Those who wished to hold the hearing in September prevailed on a five to four vote and the public hearing on secondary school expansion is scheduled for Sept. 19.

The plans for T. C. Williams are the most controversial because some of them would take land that is now part of Chinquapin Park. The Board has essentially discarded plans that would renovate the current building because of the cost and the nature of those renovations. Architects have told Board members that the current building needs a new roof, new wiring, new HVAC and to be completely reconfigured to make it a 21st century facility. Also, the athletic and music facilities in the current building are inadequate.

TWO OPTIONS remain and architects have been asked to make some changes to make both of them more acceptable to Board members and to the steering committee that has been working closely with the superintendent and architects.

City staff is also involved in the process and have been asked to comment on the plans. Comments on Option four which would take none or very little of Chinquapin include:

* A solid geotechnical study is required to determine the soil parameters for the proposed structure.

* All structures will be required to have an approved automatic fire detection and suppression system in accordance with the uniform statewide building code

* All independent automatic sprinkler systems shall be equipped with two independent fire department connections (FDC). Each FDC shall be located on an opposite side of the structure where appropriate and to the satisfaction of the fire department.

* Fire flow data for the affected area will need to be provided at the time of plan submitted.

* All fire hydrants shall conform to the City of Alexandria specifications for fire hydrants as detailed in the Water and Fire Requirements for Site Plans and New Construction.

* Fire hydrants shall be located at least 40 feet from all buildings serviced by the hydrant.

* Hydrants shall be located within 100 feet of each FDC.

* All hydrants shall be located so the distance measured from the hydrant to the most remote point of vehicular access on the site is 300 feet.

* A travel roadway designed for emergency vehicle access shall be installed at the rear of the structure, which connects the east bus drop off lot to the west parking lot. This roadway may be reserved for emergency vehicles only.

* Parallel and perpendicular parking shall be prohibited on all paved areas located next to the school structure.

* Roadways and paved areas located next to the school structure shall be deemed emergency vehicle easements. Travel ways from King Street and Woods Avenue to the school shall be designated as emergency vehicle easements. All emergency vehicle easements shall conform to the design criteria as specified in the Water and Fire Requirements for Site Plans and Construction.

* Open space areas located at the front of the structure, as well as open space located directly behind and west of the auditorium stage shall be designed to support the weight of fire apparatus in all weather conditions.

Construction phasing of this project shall incorporate the highest safety provisions for the safeguarding of the student and adult population of the existing facility during construction of the new structure.

OPTION FIVE would essentially build a new T. C. Williams at Chinquapin and reconfigure the park where the current buildings are today. City staff also commented on this option:

* A solid geotechnical study is required to determine the soil parameters for the proposed structure.

* All structures will be required to have an approved automatic fire detection and suppression system in accordance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code.

* All independent automatic sprinkler systems shall be equipped with two independent fire department connections (FDC). Each FDC shall be located on an opposite side of the structure where appropriate and to the satisfaction of the fire department.

* Fire flow data for the affected area will need to be provided at the time of the plan submitted.

* All fire hydrants shall conform to the City of Alexandria specifications for fire hydrants as detailed in the Water and Fire Requirements for Site Plans and New Construction.

* Fire hydrants shall be located at least 40 feet from all buildings serviced by the hydrant.

* Hydrants shall be located within 100 feet of each FDC.

* All hydrants shall be located so the distance measured from the hydrant to the most remote point of vehicular access on the site is 300 feet.

* A travel roadway designed for emergency vehicle access shall be installed on the north side of the structure, which connects the east parking lot to the access roadway leading to the loading dock. This roadway may be reserved for emergency vehicles only.

* East and South parking lots shall be supplied with a connector road near the structure for emergency vehicles.

* Parallel and perpendicular parking shall be prohibited on all paved areas located next to the school structure.

* Roadways and paved areas located next to the school structure shall be deemed emergency vehicle easements. The travel way from King Street to the school shall be designated as an emergency vehicle easement. A secondary emergency vehicle easement shall be established at a remote location from the existing entrance, which provides secondary access to the structure from King Street. All emergency vehicle easements shall conform to the design criteria as specified in the Water and Fire Requirements for Site Plans and New Construction.

* Open space areas located at the South Plaza and North Green Space of the structure as well as open space located directly behind the auditorium stage shall be designated to support the weight of fire apparatus in all weather conditions.

CONSTRUCTION phasing of this project shall incorporate the highest safety provisions for the safeguarding of the student and adult population of the existing recreational facility during the construction of the new structure.

“The city staff have been very cooperative throughout this process,” said Rebecca Perry, Superintendent of Schools. “We don’t anticipate that there will be any problems because we are keeping everyone informed and involved as we go along.”

There are issues involving zoning because the current building exceeds zoning requirements. Everyone is aware that there will have to be a zoning change to accommodate the new facility and the number of students that are anticipated to attend the high school in the future. By 2008, there are expected to be 2500 students at T. C. Williams. There are currently between 1900 and 2000.

<sh>Schools Recognized

<bt>TWO SCHOOLS WERE RECOGNIZED for outstanding improvement in SOL scores. Francis C. Hammond Middle School and John Adams Elementary School received Governor’s recognition for significant progress toward accreditation.

“Last year our social studies scores were just over 60 percent pass rate,” said Kris Clark, the principal at Hammond. “Our social studies teachers gave up their lunch hour and time after school tow work with students. They were determined that they would not be the cause of our not getting accredited this year.”

Chairman Mark Eaton was congratulatory. “We are very pleased with this recognition and hope that we will have good news to report about schools that are getting accredited when our SOL results are in.”

Perry agreed that there would be good news. “Our preliminary data looks very good and we are reluctant to make any announcements at this point but we believe that we will have very good news to report to you later this summer.”

School officials say that a preliminary look at raw data indicates that as many as five additional schools could get accredited this year in addition to those that received accreditation last year. Preliminarily, Charles Barrett, George Mason, Samuel Tucker, Douglas MacArthur and Minnie Howard are expected to remain accredited while both Hammond and George Washington Middle schools, John Adams Elementary School, Patrick Henry Elementary School and William Ramsay Elementary School could receive accreditation. Final results will be available by August.

<sh>Healthcare Costs

<bt>THE SCHOOL BOARD dealt with the issue of rising healthcare costs for school employees. At its first meeting in June, V. Rodger Digilio pulled the budget item relating to employee health benefits off the calendar and asked for the staff to analyze the situation and see what could be done to defray some of the cost increase.

“This is an increase of more than 21 percent,” Digilio said. “This is devastating for our bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and clerical staff and is going to be difficult for many of our teachers. We need to do something about this.”

Staff analyzed the issue and found an additional $500,000 in savings this year from cost-cutting measures that the superintendent implemented when faced with state shortfalls. The Board reprogrammed that money to offset the increased health insurance premiums. This took care of 15 percent of the increase, leaving employees with only a 6.5 percent increase in their premiums.

“I know that the staff is looking at other insurance options and I hope that we can find a way to deal with this on a long-term basis, not just for next year,” Digilio said.