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New T.C. Building Getting Careful Scrutiny

Six Plans — Two to Renovate; Four to Construct Something New

Members of the Secondary School Expansion Steering Committee had their first opportunity to review six concept plans for a renovated or new T.C. Williams High School.

School staff and members of the Educational Specification Committee have been working with consultants since January. On May 15, the consultants presented their findings and the concept plans.

“If we just decided to do nothing except bring the existing building up to code, we would have to do extensive work,” said Jim Copeland, the educational architect on the project. “The roof needs to be replaced; the heating system needs to be replaced; the electrical wiring needs to be replaced; there are ADA compliance issues, and some asbestos work needs to be done. Because the gymnasium and auditorium are both in the center of the building, it is going to be difficult to redesign it in a manner that would be more consistent with today’s schools. Structurally, the building is fine, but we are not going to be able to build up in the current structure.”

Two of the six options propose renovation. Taller wings would be added to the existing school, and internal space would be completely redesigned. These options would require that students be placed in trailers for much of the construction. These two options cost the least, at just under $60 million. Only $35 million is currently allocated for the project.

“Renovating the current building would certainly be the most disruptive to student learning,” said John Porter, T.C.’s principal. “We certainly do have some site constraints, as everyone knows. We would have to place trailers all around the building and perhaps in the park during construction. That is certainly possible.”

WOULD RENOVATION result in a building that is truly a state-of-the-art facility? “My more than 30 years of renovating old buildings helps me to understand that renovations can be as costly as starting over and building new,” said V. Rodger Digilio, one of the School Board representatives to the steering committee and the chairman of the Board’s Facilities Committee. “We are hearing that the space just doesn’t lend itself to having a school that is truly a 21st-century facility.”

The remaining four options call for new construction. Two of these call for constructing a new school on the current site with some use of parkland that is now Chinquapin Park, and two options would build the new school in the park and design a new park where the school is now located. One option would link the school’s sports complex with the recreation center and the pool, forming a sports center that could be used by the entire community. While these options put the school where the park is and the park where the school is, the park would be smaller than it is today.

“One of the positive aspects of these plans is that it would give us an opportunity to have green space on King Street,” said Claire Eberwein, one of two City Council representatives to the steering committee. “It would allow us to plan and design a 21st-century educational facility that is based on educational programs and also allow for the redesign of Chinquapin Park."

Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities, is also a member of the steering committee. “We are keeping an open mind about all of the options,” she said.

THE COST OF THE four new build options is between $60 million and $70 million. Construction estimates are based on around 425,000 square feet of space. The current building contains approximately 360,000 square feet of space. State requirements call for 150 square feet of space per pupil; the national average is about 200 square feet per pupil, and the new school is being designed for 168 square feet of space per pupil. Digilio said that new construction is running about $150 per square foot.

The consultants researched enrollment numbers as well. They have concluded that T. C. Williams should be constructed to accommodate up to 2,500 students, the number that could be in attendance at the school in 2008. This takes into account trends over the past 20 years.

“It is important that we design a school with the maximum flexibility,” Porter said. “Educational trends have changed over the past 30 years and will no doubt change again.”

Porter spoke of a Fairfax County school that was built as an open school, then had temporary walls and then more permanent walls, turning it into a more traditional school environment. “That school was designed with the flexibility to make those kinds of changes,” he said. “We need that kind of flexibility here.”

THE EDUCATIONAL DESIGN is still a work in progress, as are the architectural plans. “I am very pleased with the work of the Ed Spec Committee,” said Dr. Carolyn Buckenmaier, the executive director of educational programs for the school system.

The School Board expressed its concern about the lack of an educational design. “I would really like to see more specifics on the educational program,” said Board member Linda Cheatham. “What we have seen so far is too vague for me.”

Members of the steering committee ranked their preferred options after the presentation on May 15. The consultants will come back to the committee on June 5, with two conceptual design options. On June 13, the School Board will hold a work session on the matter and vote on a design at the last meeting of the year, at the end of June.