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Public Gives Input on T.C. Plans

The Alexandria School Board held a public hearing on renovations at T.C. Williams High School and heard from gardeners, parents and park users.

"While the parkland next to the school is enticing to some, we urge the Board to think up, not out and preserve our open space,” said Dale May, an Alexandria resident.

Michelle Late echoed his sentiments. “The garden plots have been here for three decades, and we urge the School Board to preserve them,” she said. “Also, the Board needs to examine the fact that Land Water Conservation Funds were used to purchase Chinquapin, and there may be some restrictions on what can and cannot be built on this land.”

The Land Water Conservation Fund was established in 1965 for the purpose of preserving open space and developing outdoor recreation space. In 1977, the City of Alexandria received a grant of $900,000 to purchase the 23.5 acres that is now Chinquapin Park. In a recent letter to City Manager Philip G. Sunderland, the U. S. Department of the Interior explained the restrictions that come with this funding.

“Basically, the land is to be used for outdoor recreation activities, primarily,” said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the city’s department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. “Obviously, we built the recreation center on this land, and that was part of the Master Plan for the park when the city purchased the land. We can use the land for other purposes if there is an acre-for-acre swap or if what is constructed on the land is for recreational purposes. We still have a lot of flexibility. The main constraint is that we could not build something on the land that is solely for the use of the students.”

“The Board needs to select the option that is the least disruptive to the students,” said Rhonda Grisham, a former PTA president at George Washington Middle School, the Minnie Howard Ninth Grade Center and T. C. Williams High School. “I urge you to be visionaries and think creatively so that we can have the best high school and the best recreation center possible,” she said.

William Brandon — an architect and the parent of two children, one at T. C. Williams and one at George Washington Middle School — said, “These designs would at best get a passing grade in a fourth-year architectural school charette,” he said. “They are formulaic ... and do not take into account our urban site.”

Brandon has walked the site and taken elevation readings. He has found that there is a 30-foot difference between the front of the site and the back of the site, requiring extensive fill or having part of the first floor underground.

THE ISSUE OF COOPERATING with the city was raised, first by Dr. Sally Ann Baynard, who said that the Board had not agreed to work cooperatively, and then by Chairman Mark Eaton, who spoke about the October city/school meeting among the chairman and vice chairman of the Board and the mayor and vice mayor.

“Rather than focusing on any agreements that may or may not have been made, we all just need to do our jobs.” he said. “I would not say that we agreed to anything that will change our time line. We did discuss the land-use process, and we could either go in like any other individual and hope for the best, or we could work with the city staff on a time line for obtaining all of the permits that we need, to get this school built.

In a similar statement, Sunderland gave City Council a report on the progress with the T.C. project at the Nov. 12 meeting. “At the city/school meeting, we agreed to move forward cooperatively in looking at shared-use facilities,” he said. “We will have a concept to you by the middle of January.”

Susan Johnson expressed support for cooperating. “If we are truly only selecting a site, we need to do that in December and let the architects decide where to put the parking garage and the stadium and the other facilities,” she said. “We have a good working relationship with the department of recreation, and I am certain that we can all work cooperatively on those facilities that we can share.”

SPEAKERS AT THE public hearing raised issues about the educational program. School Board member V. Rodger Digilio addressed some of those. “First of all, as to the house concept that has been mentioned by some of the speakers, the Board has never approved this as the way we want to proceed,” he said. “We have all talked about having schools within a school, and the house concept has come up, but the Board has never voted on this.

“Also, there is the issue of vocational education,” he said. “Many of the designs that we have seen call for less space for vocational education, but again, we have never voted “

Linda Cheatham, the chairperson of the Board’s curriculum committee, agreed. “I don’t normally do this, but in this case I have to say ditto to Mr. Digilio,” she said. “I have been asking about the educational program and have been assured that the building is flexible enough to put any program that we agree on in it. While this may be the case, I, for one, am reluctant to approve any design that locks us into a building without seeing the educational program.”

Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry told the Board that it would receive a presentation on a proposed educational program in May 2003. A committee of teachers and staff, which is being chaired by John Porter, T.C.’s principal, is working on the details of this program. The career and technical education advisory committee is also involved in looking at options for career and technical education.

The Board will vote on the site in December.