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T.C. Design Plans Remain Elusive

After two years of planning, the manner in which T.C. Williams High School will be expanded languishes in a cloud of indecision.

The planning process began more than 18 months ago with a design charette at which parents, teachers, school administrators and students came together to discuss concepts for a new or expanded high school. In March and April of 2002, teachers and staff from the high school and members of the administrative staff met for four days to design the school’s education plan. The results of those meetings are contained in a 4-inch-thick notebook. No summary of that committee’s work has been presented to members of the committee, the School Board or the public.

A steering committee composed of citizens, teachers, City Council members, School Board members, parents and students met in May and June of this year to discuss conceptual designs. In August, when that group failed to achieve consensus on a conceptual design, members were thanked and then dismissed.

In September of this year, City Council, School Board, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission met to discuss a joint city/school planning process. “After the steering committee could not agree on any of the designs that were presented by the schools’ architects, Council, the School Board, the Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission agreed to move forward and jointly plan the Chinquapin and T.C. Williams site,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein, who was a member of the steering committee and attended the original design charette. “To that end, Council informed the School Board that the city would hire its own architect.”

THE SCHOOL BOARD has looked at three different site options: flip flop Chinquapin Park and the T.C. Williams site, use only the T.C. site for the school, or plan the school and the recreation center together using the northernmost section of the T.C. and Chinquapin sites.

After one meeting with the city’s architects, Moseley Architects, the firm hired by the school system, delivered a letter to school staff and the School Board. The letter, dated Oct. 15, stated, “It appears to us that the best option for continued development is Option C3. It has the endorsement of the steering committee, city staff, and seems to have the general support of the community expressed at the public forum.”

Option C3 builds T.C. Williams on the current school property and connects it to Chinquapin Recreation Center via a bridge. The stadium remains in its current location. There will also be a large parking garage on King Street.

“The school architects seem to have taken a suburban approach to what is an urban site,” Eberwein said. “I am not seeing creativity in integrating the various educational, recreational and open space uses that must be accommodated in a city with so little public land.”

Sandra Whitmore, the director of the city’s department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities, does not support this plan. “This plan does not meet the city’s recreation needs,” she said.

Eileen Fogarty, the city’s director of Planning and Zoning, also did not sign off on this option. “My staff has not endorsed any specific design for T.C. Williams,” she said.

RICHARD BAIER, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, expressed the need to see a traffic study. “Before we have any design that we can support, we need to see a traffic study that shows us the impact on King Street and specifically the impact on the intersection at Braddock, Quaker and King,” he said. This study has not yet been conducted.

School Board reaction to Option C3 is mixed. V. Rodger Digilio asked the architects about the size of the school in the various options. “It appears to me that C3 is significantly smaller than the other options,” he said. “I would like to see an analysis of the square footage to make certain that this school will meet the needs of our students.” Option C3 is at least 60,000 square feet smaller than Option A. and because of site constraints may not be able to be expanded

Sally Ann Baynard, also a member of the School Board, expressed concerns about the security of Option C3. “In light of the recent events in the metropolitan area, I just wonder if we really want to put a school right on King Street,” she said. “Maybe the architects have analyzed this location, but I haven’t heard any discussion about this.”

ANOTHER ISSUE has been the development of an educational program for the high school. Dr. Margaret Walsh is the executive director of secondary education for the school system. She said, “We are in the very early stages of designing an education program for T.C. Williams. We have formed a committee of T.C. staff and staff from Minnie Howard that will begin meeting this week. John Porter is chairing that committee. Every member had to apply and submit a credential and vision statement prior to being appointed.”

Walsh said that this committee will meet every two to three weeks and will report to the School Board in May 2003. “We may be ready before then, but May is our absolute deadline for developing an education plan,” she said.

The basic tenets are smaller educational environments, connecting every student with a core of adults, and designing a program that will meet the postsecondary needs of each individual child. “We will start with these and move toward a plan,” Walsh said.

Mayor Kerry J. Donley tried to get the joint planning process back on track at the Oct. 28, city/school meeting. “We have agreed that the school architects, and our architects will meet within the week and have a conceptual design for the high school and the recreation center by Feb. 1,” he said. “We understand that our priority is the school because the kids are coming, and they need a facility in which they can be educated.”

DESPITE THIS TIME LINE, the School Board will hold a public hearing on T.C. on Nov. 7. “They said they want to take their conceptual designs out to the public one more time,” Donley said.

Eberwein believes that the public hearing is premature. “Exactly what do they expect the public to comment on?” she said. “This has been the most disjointed process I’ve ever participated in. To present building plans to the public without having the educational program in place is … I guess the best thing I can say is that it is backwards.

“It is imperative that school and recreational facilities, athletic fields and open space successfully coalesce at this site. That is a challenge, but we must meet that challenge because we will be living with the results for the next 50 years,” Eberwein said.